New Hope for Free E-Readers?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Popular only a few years ago, lately the idea of the emergence of a free e-reader has taken a beating. However, a new technology product coming out of the smartphone industry could give the idea a resurgence.

The theory was that e-ink e-reader technology would become so cheap that it wouldn’t cost all that much for an ebook retailer, telecom provider or other firm that benefits from the sale of ebooks to subsidize it for readers. Give away the razor handle, sell the blades.

A German company called txtr even came close last October, tantalizing dangling the possibility in front of the industry with a $13 e-reader called Beagle. The publicized price point was based on the company’s ability to get a major telecom provider to subsidize the cost of the device to get its users to use its data service to download ebooks.

Publishers salivated at the idea. After all, a free e-reader would leave more money in readers’ pockets with which to buy ebooks. There were many reasons to get excited at the prospect.

After a quiet period in which no such telecom partner was found, the Beagle died and with it the cheapest e-reader yet.

But yesterday, the idea of a free or extremely cheap e-reader was given new life. Using the latest technology from e-reader display company E Ink, e-reader maker PocketBook and phone manufacturer Alcatel are demoing a new kind of e-reading device that piggybacks on your smartphone and has the potential to be extremely inexpensive. (A company called Yota came out with a similar device late last year.)

They’re cases for smartphones that have e-ink displays that can be used for checking weather, status updates and, yes, e-reading. PocketBook has created a case that goes with the popular Samsung Galaxy S4 and Alcatel has created one for its own OneTouch Hero device.

No word yet on how much these devices might cost, how they’re powered or how long they last, but one can imagine the possibilities for ebook business models. Perhaps consumers could be given the case for free with a one-year subscription to Oyster, the new mobile-only ebook subscription app. Or Samsung, with its new focus on ebooks, could give the case away when a reader puts a $50 credit into its content store.

Either way, should the innovation gain traction, it could be good news for ebook publishers looking for a trend that shifts dollars from device-buying to ebook-buying.

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6 thoughts on “New Hope for Free E-Readers?

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  5. Michael W. Perry

    Persuading cell phone makers to have models with such a screen built-in might be a better option. Cases not only tend to be bulky, you can have only one of them. Getting one for protection or as a supplement battery would rule out getting one with this reader.

    That said, as an author, I’ve had an excuse to own several ereaders. At first, I had an iPhone, then I got a Kindle ePaper reader, and finally an iPad. While I use all three, I seemed to have done the most digital reading when I just had that iPhone and read in bed each night before I went to sleep. It was also handy to have that ereader with me all the time. Having all three also complicates keeping track of my reading. The abundance of different ereaders on smartphones and tablets only adds to the confusion.

    -Michael W. Perry, My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

    Reply
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