Democratzation of the Internet. How many times have we heard of this expression. Quite a few times I would think. For example, Google helps small business get the visibility that they would not have otherwise got. And that is a very powerful idea. In a swoop, the Internet (OK, technically not the Inter-webs but the various sites like Google, Lulu, eBay, Amazon, Yahoo and the rest) has created a level playing field. And these are large businesses that don’t even have a brick and mortar presence. Wait, you are reading this, wondering what it is that I am talking about. This is what the 90s was about. This was what computer magazines and business magazines were hailing when I was in college (yes, that was long ago !). But one area where there was no level playing field was books. And when I said level playing field, I don’t mean for the publishers or the authors or for the enablers like Amazon, but for people like me – the readers. And how is it the case you wonder ! And I shall explain.
The lack of level playing field is the access to books. In India, there was a very limited selection of books that I could get my hands on. In Bangalore, the sources of books were
And the last one was more mirrors and mainstream books than anything else. I have nothing against Crossword, but somehow, I feel that their idea of having a coffee shop and a book store beside each other, like one can do in Borders in the US didn’t take off. And after a while, they did not, (for a good reason) allow readers to take books to the coffee shop. And in Madras, Landmark and the Moore market were my favorite joints (like any other book-lover from Madras can vouch for). And to digress a bit, the Landmark in Bangalore feels like a supermarket instead of a book-store. Atleast the one in Madras feels more like a book-store. And in Hyderabad, well, it was the Sunday street-side vendors in Abids. I have been told that the bookstores in Kothi alongside the women’s college have made way to development activities. Of course, I always felt that Hyderabad was the laggard when it comes to books; and no, Walden really is not a redeeming feature.
Given the above, one would think that there would be a large selection of books that would have been available. And that, my dear reader is where the story takes a turn. Even though the above had a selection of books, the buyer of the books did not have a choice. You had to look for a book and be happy with whatever you find (and sometimes you do find great books too, like hardbound versions from the 60s !). If you were looking for a rare book or for a esoteric new book, most likely you would be out of luck. One would have no choice but to look for the book on some site like Amazon / B&N / sometimes on eBay. The cost of the book (taking into consideration the exchange rate and the foreign transaction fees) would most often be shadowed by the cost of the shipping of the book. And when you are buying a book which converts to close to INR 1500, every penny for the shipping does make a difference. With me so far?
So what is the democratization? It is the e-book reader ! It might be the Kindle (which by the way is definitely worth the buy – more on that later), the nook, the Sony reader or any other reader. These e-readers, with an upfront cost, have removed the shipping costs out of the equation. And, that creates a market for the vendor (like Amazon), for the publisher (NoStarch for e.g.,) and savings for the reader. And this makes books available within the reach of most of the book lovers. Of course, as someone who loves paper books, I know that the e-book readers will never replace the joy of having a paper book and the memories that the book holds (like what Partridge says). But, what the e-book reader creates is the ability for readers to read books that they would not treasure the way they would treasure paper books. And an e-book reader is useful in another case – technical books. Off late I have not seen a technical book which can’t be used on a weighing scale. In such a situation, the e-readers help lighten the load – both monetarily and the weight-wise.
Given the above, what about the price point of the existing e-book readers? Do you think that the costs of those are manageable? For example, the nook sold for $99 recently and the basic kindle sells for $139. Is that too much of a price to pay for reading books? Can an reader with support for e-ink be created within a price point of <$100 ? If such a reader were possible, the list of features I would like to see on it
- Support for e-ink. B&W is good enough. Don’t need a colour one
- Support for epub, with mobi as an extended support
- Better rendering of PDF documents – generally PDFs are not displayed as well as the native formats. Though this is not a strict requirement
- Connects via USB
- wi-fi would be a good to have and a basic browser would be enough
- I am not sure about DRM for the books though. DRM is important for the vendor. I don’t know enough of the existing formats to know how their support for DRM is. At some point, DRM will become important for any e-book reader. So, I toss in DRM too.
Are there any other features that you think are a requirement for an e-reader?