Book and Reading News

A la carte and the Apple tablet

Wired‘s Brian X. Chen has a vision of Apple’s tablet with an interesting angle: The potential for a la carte pricing of books. It’s not a new idea, but his point about college students being excited about buying individual chapters of a textbook rather than the whole book rings true to me.

Would publishers consider pricing a textbook by the chapter? I doubt it, but this is something their primary customers may respond to, giving publishers an opportunity to experiment profitably. After all, if a textbook in paper costs $80 and can be broken into 15 $5 chapters that can be sold separately to more buyers than could or would buy the whole book, the possibilities become intriguing.

Offering chapters as free promotions is old hat, of course. What about rewarding buyers of chapters with rewards that encourage more purchases? If, after buying three or four chapters, the reader gets the whole book or credits toward chapters of another book by the same author, that could be an interesting twist.

The rest of the article anticipates Apple’s wiping the competitive table with Amazon’s Kindle and solving the world’s problems with tablet-of-destiny. Chen suggests that application-based delivery of books is a good idea. It isn’t because it represents the ultimate form of DRM–a book that won’t play unless the customer complies with strict rules about the device, application and codebase of the iPod Touch operating system. Apple, unlike Amazon, does not provide forward compatibility for applications or, if iTunes is any indication, will not curate a customer’s collection of e-books for redownloading if the file is lost.

The writer confuses a monolithic distribution technology with convenience. Texts, however, need to be portable to be useful and profitable on the lower price readers expect to pay for e-books. Portability is good for readers, writers and publishers.

Moreover, Chen is eager to see Apple fix e-book pricing with “arm twisting.” That perspective ignores the fact that Apple’s interests are in selling the device (and content that runs on that device, and only that device) but not necessarily with the interests of authors and publishers who need greater freedom to explore creativity than a universally low price point for e-books would allow.

Book and Reading News

iRiver’s got another Kindle competitor

iRiver, which dominated the market for “personal music players” or “MP3 Players” back in the days when we referred to portable music by technology acronyms and iPod was just a sparkle in the eyes of a few Apple folks, is reported to building a Google Android-based media player and an e-book reader. But, wait, the devices are “not yet 100 per cent signed off” yet, said iRiver product manager Danny Bejanoff in the article. The company is also developing a Web tablet and e-book reader that will be available in Australia “for testing” soon, according to Bejanoff.

Sounds like a trial balloon.

I believe the device referred to as a Web tablet is, or is related to, the P7, a $209.00 tablet-like device with 16GB of memory already offered by iRiver in the U.S. A $179.00 8GB version is also available.

Fun fact to know and tell question of the day: What company preceded iRiver with the first portable downloadable audio player? It’s not this, which was the first device designed for music playback. Enter your answers in Comments!

Book and Reading News

CrunchPad, a $250 Kindle killer?

CrunchPadMockTechCrunch founder Mike Arrington will launch a Web browsing tablet device, perhaps as soon as July. The device, described as 18 millimeters thick with a 12-inch screen, that will be sold in a variety of colors for less than $250, according to The New York Times. The first version of the device, which will have a color screen, is pictured to the right. Additional prototype photos are available here.

The CrunchPad will have a simple user interface based on four touch-screen gestures, shown in the YouTube video below, one of which opens a soft keyboard for entering text. One could conceivably use the device to participate in social networks and other collaborative Web applications.

CrunchPad will purportedly do nothing other than surf the Web. But I think that statement misses the greater significance of the device. A reader featuring rich color and the ability to play streamed video is the exemplary reader that e-book enthusiasts have been craving. It would be a simple matter to develop browser plugins that handled various e-book formats. More importantly, however, the Intel Atom-based device, will support mixed media titles with ease, making it a potentially game-changing player in the digital publishing industry.

While not an E-Ink device, and there’s no need that it be an E-Ink device, its price point and features make it a strong contender against the $489 Kindle DX for the hearts and wallets of readers. The practical question is what kind of battery life an Atom CPU and 12-inch LCD screen will deliver. Definitely a device to keep your eye on.[youtube][/youtube]