Earlier last week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported “E-book deal’s the steal of the century” (Feb 29, 2011), reporting on a deal published on Cudo’s website. What was it? An e-Reader selling for $99 including 4000 ebooks, many of them under copyright, and had actually been pirated. It included popular books such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
It was indeed a deal too good to be true. The deal was soon pulled off the site, with purchasers offered an alternative e-Reader. But what does this incident show, and how might publishers respond? 2012 is indeed the National Year of Reading, what impact will this have?
Publishers did, a few years back, seem to resist the conversion ebooks. Although many of the large publishing houses such as HarperCollins had already established eBook imprints and online stores, they were mainly there to ‘test the waters’. Content was minimal and pricing wasn’t attractive. But what a shame they tested too early. The ‘waters’ were quite empty, with no widely affordable eReader available; the average eInk eReader back in 2004 was around $499, and this was for a very basic model.
The first Kobo eReader released March 24 2010 (see left)
It wasn’t really until Kobo’s eReader entered the scene in 2010 did we see a significant shift to eReading and eBooks. For once, eReaders became more accessible to bookworms for a small investment: US$149 or A$179 got you the Kobo eReader (2010) preloaded with 100 copyright free books. Although not everyone noticed it, eReaders were no longer just for the gizmo-geeks and the techies, the Kobo introduced an eReader which was simple, book-sized and no-frills. It was indeed perfect for bookworms and serious readers. After all, do you really need a full sized keyboard to do your reading as provided by Amazon’s kindle at the time? Did you really need 3G access? The Kobo was marketed at bookworms, and it worked.
Unlike Amazon’s kindle, the Kobo also became the lowest-cost ebook reader with a fully supported ebook site, and the ability to read industry-standard ‘epub’ files. It came with Adobe DRM software to protect epubs, protecting the interests of publishers as well. Whilst there were alternatives, such as the Barnes and Noble “Nook”, and the Sony E-Readers, only the Kobo was able to reach more of the world’s population. It arrived in Australia in late 2010 through Borders stores, kobo itself dispatched eReaders to Canada and USA, it was marketed in brick and mortar stores all across the USA including Walmart; reaching an audience far greater than B&N’s Nook. At the end of the year, Amazon’s kindle was still #1 (sold online) but the kobo recorded significant growth. During the Dec 2010 holiday season, ebooks were downloaded from the kobo site from 150 countries and read on Kobo e-Readers and also on the Kobo iPhone App.
Publishers quickly rushed to make their titles available from mid with the release of the kobo online bookstore featuring over 2.2 million titles. They took to marketing new releases, then progressively back-tracking popular releases into ebook titles. On the 9th August 2010, HarperCollins announced a first for its online ebook imprint, HarperOne. Deepak Chopra’s Muhammad would be released in eBook format before the physical release date. The kobo store was quickly populated with ebooks from the main publishing houses, Allen and Unwin, HarperCollins, Puffin, Penguin and Random House.
But in 2011, HarperCollins announced the eBook Loan Limit for libraries. This suggested that publishers, perhaps, may have been starting to be concerned about lost revenue due to ebook circulation. But as the article linked above suggests, HarperCollins concerns may have been misguided.
And now, in 2012, we have the eBook deal on a popular group buying site: Cudo, which is a venture of Microsoft. Progress has been made for ebooks, and it is unlikely that this incident will have severe repercussions for the ebook industry, the publishing industry or libraries. Many people have eReaders now, and even more serious book readers are considering the switch; a kobo eReader can now be picked up for A$99 including 100 free classics allowing you to store over 1000 ebooks on the device (using SD card). For slightly more, you can get a more fancy Sony eReader as well (although the Kobo Touch is now the favoured eReader). The kobo site is growing everyday; almost every new release and award winner is now published as an ebook as well. Even Ray Bradbury, aged 94 and a long time critic of ebooks, relented in Nov 2011 and permitted his publisher, Simon & Schuster, to publish his famous novel ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in ebook format.
Libraries, aware that their days may be limited if they don’t expand their collections, are now taking up ebook libraries by storm. Most public libraries are using the Overdrive media ebook library for their collections, allowing audiobooks and epub texts to be downloaded by their registered library card holders 24×7.
So it’s pretty clear the race for ebook domination is well on its way and eReading is here to stay. If publishers pull out now, they won’t have a chance to re-enter the eReading race. And no publisher would want to risk that.