The Future of Books: All About Apps?
CREDIT: Barnes & Noble
The Amazon Kindle had barely made printed books seem antiquated and already Kindle and other dedicated e-readers face a challenge from smartphones and other devices that can run e-book reading software, or apps.
Major booksellers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders are rapidly expanding the availability of these apps, often branding them with the name of each respective vendor's dedicated e-reader, such as the Kindle app, the Nook app, and the newest kid on the block, the Kobo app.
Barnes & Noble, for example, just announced a Nook e-reading app for smartphones with Google's Android operating system. This move into Android, which presently powers 13 percent of the burgeoning United States smartphone market , lets Barnes & Noble keep pace with Amazon and Borders, both of whom added an Android app to their lineup of e-reading Kindle and Kobo apps about a month ago. (The booksellers also offer e-reading apps for the iPhone and the BlackBerry, and also the Palm Pre in the case of Kobo.)
Despite this competition, reading an e-book on a smartphone can be a tough sell for some people because of the relatively small screen. "Reading a book on a smartphone is a stretch," said Mark Beccue, a senior analyst at ABI Research.
Yet Beccue sees great opportunity for e-reading apps in general. For one, they make books available across a wide spectrum of electronic devices that can run the apps.
An ebook purchased on one's smartphone can also be read on a desktop computer at home, a laptop, a tablet computer such as iPad, and of course on dedicated ebook devices made by the company.
This literary portability makes books purchased through e-reader apps very attractive for tech-savvy book worms. "It is certainly the choice of a lot of people to go for an electronic book," said Beccue.
On the rise
The introduction of the iPad in April, which has since sold a whopping three million units as of late June, has also fueled the rise of e-books, both through third-party apps and Apple's new iBooks app. Within its first month of introduction, 1.5 million iBooks were purchased by users.
A seminal moment in the ascent of e-books came earlier this year when e-book sales eclipsed hardcover sales at Amazon , with 180 e-books now digitally flying off the shelves for every 100 printed hardcovers.
Additionally, wholesale revenue from e-book sales jumped to over $90 million in the first quarter of 2010, doubling since third quarter of 2009, according to statistics collected by the International Digital Publishing Forum.
Retailers and publishers alike stand to gain from the skyrocketing sales of e-books facilitated in part by the proliferation of e-reader software. "Digital goods like [e-books] clearly are more profitable," said Beccue. "Amazon still sells physical books, but if they sell a digital version, there is more profit. They don’t have to store [the book or] ship it."
Given the fever-pitch demand for e-books, publishers have been duking it out with Amazon and other booksellers over the price (and profit margins) on e-books.
Little wonder, then, that the e-reader apps themselves are free. "Apps are really a conduit a lot of times to the Web" where the e-books are available, Beccue told TechNewsDaily.
In this cyberspace, retailers are jockeying to host the biggest and newest collections of e-books.
Barnes & Noble has over one million titles in its library presently for Nook and its Barnes & Noble eReader apps. Kobo boasts almost two million titles, and as an app is also available across various other e-readers including the Sony Reader, the Ashtak line and BeBook.
Though Amazon holds the fewest in its Kindle Store – 620,000 titles available for its United States customers – as of this writing, the company has rights to 109 out of 112 books on the New York Times bestseller list, a category of figure that its competitors do not advertise.
Ultimately, it is too early to tell whether e-reader apps will expand the market for books or merely replace the printed standbys of the last five-and-a-half centuries. Given the printed medium's apparent staying power in the advent of radio, television and the Internet, ink-on-paper might have a ways to go before relegated to the cassette tape bin of history.
"I don’t think [e-books and e-reader apps] will kill the book," Beccue said, "I think they will be complementary to it."