The status for eBooks post the iPad-announcement

Note: Eirik Newth is a Norwegian writer and lecturer, who blogs interestingly and well about, among other things, eBooks. Here’s his take on the iPad and its impact on the eBook market. The original article (in Norwegian) can be found here.

A few days after the announcement of Apple’s netbook challenger, anyone would be hard pressed to say anything definitive about how it will affect the publishing world. Journalists in Norway are insisting that the world will never be the same, as they have over the last few months in their attempt to convince themselves that salvation for print newspapers is near. The norwegian publishing industry’s premiere pundit on eBooks, Gyldendal’s Bjarne Buset, has remarked to the norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that the iPad will lead the way, without really being given the opportunity to expand on what he means by that statement. Here are a few reflections on the subject:

The iPad will lead to increased sales of eBooks. Even if it proves to be a MacBook Air, rather than an iPhone, sales to the fanbase alone will likely be in the millions of units. Many of these will want to try out the iBooks-bookshop, which will mean an increase in a market that, for the time being, is based on a eBook reader customer base of two to three three to four million units.

The iPad will lead to increased attention to eBooks. As previously mentioned, Apple has an ardent following among journalists. Anything they do about the iBooks store will most likely get broad coverage in the media, with corresponding followup in various sosial media services, especially blogs and Twitter.

The iPad wil not be the final breakthrough for eBook readers. I’d be hard pressed to envision an average reader of books being tempted to invest in a gadget that is both bigger and heavier than the typical book, and that most likely will cost somewhere betweeen NOK 4000 and 6000 (plus the cost of the 3G subscription for those who get that). The size and pricing rather indicates the textbook market as the likely target audience. In that event, the decision to launch an overgrown iPhone is hard to understand, given no support for Flash and multitasking.

The iPad does not herald the end for Kindle 2, as indicated by, among others, Forbes. The iPad is big and heavy compared to other eBook readers, is much more expensive both to buy and to use. We should also take into account the low battery capacity and the backlit display. Not to be forgotten is the fact that the Kindle Store is the largest, cheapest and most advanced eBook shop in the world. You can be certain that Amazon will do their utmost to keep that position for the year to come.

The iPad will probably push eBook reader prices down. As a dedicated device, the convensional eBook reader will need to be considerably cheaper than a multi-feature device. Count on somewhat lowered prices for the Kindle 2, as well as the basic models of Sony et. al., as well as considerably lower prices for the larger and more expensive models, such a the Kindle DX and Sony Daily Edition.

The iPad will probably not change the price for eBooks. The standard price in iBooks will be 2-5 US$ above the 10$ mark set by Amazon. Apple and the publishing houses are obviously counting on the users willingness to pay an added “Apple tax”, and Amazon has little to gain by pushing prices further down.

The iPad heralds the en for the Kindle format. Over the last six months, I’ve spent a lot of time saying that Apple would choose one of the two major formats (EPUB and Kindle), rather than develop a third, and that the choice would probably be EPUB. That turned out to be a correct analysis, and even though the Kindle users will be able to read their books on the iPad using an app, the smart choice for the long term would be converting the store to the industry standard, like Sony did with the Reader Store just befor christmas.

The iPad does not herald the end of consumer format confusion. At the moment, it looks like Apple have chosen their own DRM-standard for EPUB, rather than Adobe Digital Editions. The result? Books bought in iBooks will not be readably outside the iTunes system. ADE-encrypted books can be read using an app, and publishing houses will thus be able to sell eBooks for the iPad, even if iBooks doesn’t open in Norway anytime soon. The result? In half a year, we might see eBook customers with three separate, mutually incompatible, book collections on the same device. Day what you want about DRM, consumer friendly it ain’t.

To sum up: This is unlikely to be an “iPod moment” for the publishing industry. Even if it is, it needs time to develop, just like the real iPod-moment did. For the Norwegian publishing industry, the important thing is to keep eyes on the target, and make sure that as wide as possible a selection of EPUB-titles are available for sale i March.

Note: Eirik Newth is a Norwegian writer and lecturer, who blogs interestingly and well about eBooks. Here’s his take on the iPad and its impact on the eBook market. The original article (in Norwegian) can be found here.
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