I am a great fan of Apple products, own an Apple computer and an iPhone, but I am not yet convinced that the upcoming iPad will dominate as the reading device of choice for e-books. This does not mean that it won’t find its place for all the other applications, especially games and movies and the avalanche of coming iPad apps. Indeed, the technical aspects of the reading experience might even be somewhat superior, albeit temporary, to what is now available in reading devices exclusive to e-books e.g. Kindle and the SONY reader.
The iPad has certain distinct disadvantages for the dedicated reader of books.
Essentially, there are two inhibiting factors, price and portability. Compared to the Kindle, for example, the add on cost for the content will be astronomical for the dedicated reader considering he or she will have to pay more than double the price for the iPad and need an online hookup that will pile on costs.
Big publishers have demanded and got an increase over the $9.95 cap originally priced by Kindle, which has been the standard cap since it was first launched. Publishers with books on the iPad will set their own price points which will begin well above the cap established earlier by Kindle. Whether they get their prices is a matter of conjecture.
For the record, the Harris Poll discovered in a survey two years ago, that 27% of Americans purchased more than ten books in 2007 while a quarter of Americans purchased none. This was, of course, before the new devices were brought to market with the SONY reader being the first followed by the Kindle. Into this mix will come the iPad and soon many others including Google will make it to market. The trend to e-books is now unstoppable.
In my opinion, the dedicated reader of books, not the casual reader will make the e-book market. They will be the principal buyers of content on these devices splitting their choices almost evenly between fiction and non-fiction.
As a dedicated reader myself, my rule of thumb may be not for everyone, but my book purchase habits, about 80% fiction and 20% non-fiction, add up to about 25 books a year bought through bookstores up until the e-book technology became user friendly in 2007. Before that all these books were purchased at bookstores as hardcover or paperbacks. Today more than 90% of my books are purchased as e-books and because of the ease of purchase and convenience I have nearly doubled my content purchases.
I may be an overzealous dedicated reader, but it might illustrate what I am getting at. Considering the cost of the iPad device and the amount of books a dedicated reader of books normally buys, the cost of each e-book purchased through Apple will be quite high, far more expensive than books bought on the dedicated reading devices like the Kindle and the SONY reader. The cost of the book itself might be competitive but the ancillary costs for the necessary add-ons cannot be ignored in the price point.
Of course, there are many casual readers who will also want the ability to see movies, play games, read newspapers, magazines and comic books and fiddle with all manner of other distractions as well as read books. For them the iPad will be a convenient device with an infinite variety of choices under one convenient roof, so to speak, much like a physical living room in the average home.
Somehow I believe that dedicated book readers, those of us who spent a lifetime browsing bookstores, to whom reading, especially works of the imagination, is akin to breathing will likely opt for a device dedicated exclusively to the act of reading.
Making such an argument must be paired with the advantages of portability. While the tablet appears elegant, a beautiful piece of design, with its 9.7 inch screen it is not sized for convenient portability. It does not pass the side pocket test of a man’s jacket or the average size of a woman’s pocketbook. Dedicated readers carry their books around in subways, buses, intercity trains and airplanes. They read on beaches, boats, benches, grassy knolls and forest clearings or anywhere at all where a quiet moment can be found. In my opinion the iPad’s size puts it at a disadvantage to the dedicated and, yes, compulsive book reader who moves around.
For the habitual multi-tasker the iPad will be a boon. He can flit between movies, magazines, maps, newspapers, TV shows, restaurant reservations, stock market prices, zillions of porno sites, check on his bank account, his buddies and kids, and chock as much information bloat into his brain as humanly possible. Note the word “human.” Observe the flitting activity of the household fly. Will we one day reach the inherent restlessness of the fly?
As an author/pioneer in e-books whose many books were digitized nearly a decade ago, I have heard every conceivable argument for and against the e-book experience. I believe that for most of us reading fanatics that argument has been put to rest. Content, as always, is king and confronting content on the screen using today’s devices offers its own intrinsic joys and comforts. Books are a one-on-one communication system and the words that form their content are at the heart of the process however they are delivered to the recipient. Besides, both fiction and non-fiction books are, in essence long works of the imagination requiring concentration and isolation to truly absorb their content. Distractions are inconsistent with that experience.
Where price and easy portability does not matter, the iPad might offer a considered choice for the dedicated bookreader. Chances are that I will yield to its temptations, but I don’t think it will be my reading device of first resort.
I offer this critique not in any way to diminish the wonders of the iPad. There are lots of people out there who will love it. It may or may not fit into my own patterns of entertainment. Indeed, reading books on it might offer a pleasing alternative for certain situations. Jumping on board the iPad for the big publishers might offer new opportunities for marketing and distribution but I think they should restrain their enthusiasm for it as a game changer and ultimate rescuer for their current economic challenges.