Ebook Readers

I’ve been a proponent of ebooks since I joined a startup almost nine years ago to help build an electronic publishing system. If you’d have told me then that by 2007 the state of the art would barely have advanced beyond that of 1998, I’d have wept openly. The fact that one of the best available dedicated book readers, the eBookwise 1150, is essentially the Rocketbook that was available back then helps with that sadness. There appears to be another jump in that state of the art with the e-ink devices and finally some are commercially available.

The MAKE blog has a Q&A about the Sony device. I like that the e-ink doesn’t consume power except on page refreshes. The Sony claims 7500 page “turns” per charge, which should quite a few books. Wikipedia has a rundown which notes they don’t support straight HTML and appears that getting your own documents on the device will be problematic. That should set off everyone’s spider sense that something is wrong. It looks like a pretty good device but frankly, I’m not going to buy anything from the sleazesters at Sony. I’m especially not buying something that uses their well-known content closedness and DRM strategies. I’ll have to wait for another manufacturer to bring this technology to market.

Update: A few reviews of the Sony Reader from the comments. Wade Roush in MIT Technology Review and Mike Dunn on his blog. Mike says that he is able to read his Fictionwise and Project Gutenberg books on the device without a problem.

One competitor is the iLiad reader which looks pretty compelling and open, with CF and SD cards, as well as wifi. The big downside is the price, which is very close to twice that of the Sony. This might be us getting hammered by the euro/dollar exchange rate, but paying $650 for an ebook reader is ridiculous. Even $350 is nuts, but if people buy enough for them to keep making them perhaps the price will eventually drop into the sub-hundred dollar range which is when it will get really good.

Another one is this weird thing, the Jinke. The docs are oddly translated from the Chinese and I can’t really tell if this is currently for sale or at what price. Let’s score this one as a wild card unlikely to really be of much use. I’d love to be pleasantly surprised, but I wouldn’t lay any of my money on that roulette spin.

I’d love to have an ebook reader that works on this e-ink technology. It needs to be open enough to let me read my own docs, things I have purchased from Fictionwise or Baen bookstores, or downloaded from Project Gutenberg. I’d love to have the iLiad but at the price of the Sony. Does anyone know more about this subject or if something is available at a reasonable price?

9 Replies to “Ebook Readers”

  1. You say the price is ridiculous, but try this on for size. I would gladly pay $650 for an ebook reader with e-ink if that meant the price of publishing was drastically reduced.
    Take, for instance, text books. I have been in college for 7 years. (Hey, you don’t plan on these things, they just happen!) In that time, I have watched the price of books skyrocket. I have also watched the edition cycle spin out of control with new editions release sometimes every semester (or around 6 months).
    If text book writers could cut the middleman, ie: publishers, prices could come down 70% and still let the writers get their full share they are getting now. One semester would nearly pay for the book reader.
    I agree with you on the Sony issue. I wouldn’t buy an ebook unless it could take standard formats, and allowed anybody to create content for it.

  2. hey dave, i posted on this right before xmas (i received a sony ereader as a gift) – http://weblog.glemak.com/nomadic_audio/2006/12/my_new_ebook_po.html

    so far the experience as been good, especially the ability to take one device out while commuting that allows me to both listen to a podcast and read whatever i’m in the mood for…

    i’ve been able to bring in any ebook format i’ve wanted to, i have a 1 gb sd loaded up w/ gutenberg, fictionwise and direct from cory doctorow stuff – plus some rss feeds (limited and static)…

    i have also been able to put my own stuff on the unit, .txt, .pdf and .rtf mostly (word .doc importing is not clean yet for me but some of my co-workers do it seamlessly already)…

    while i wasn’t considering putting up my own money for it – i am glad i have it now and can recommend it (see my disclosure in post of course – i am loosely “connected” to eink though that hasn’t influenced my pov, other than i get to see many more eink applications & devices than most)…

    as for john’s comment – totally agree, textbooks are way to expensive, being able to access them digitally and at a lower cost should be a priority for academia…

  3. There is a review by Wade Roush of the Sony e-book reader PRS-500 in the latest MIT’s “Technology Review” magazine. He seems to think the technology is ripe for the mass market even if the cost isn’t yet.

    I don’t have a link to the article as I read it in the actual paper magazine but I’m sure you can find it online without too much trouble.

  4. John, the problem with the $650 price point is that its up into the cheap laptop range. I agree that textbook prices are out of control. My wife is a college professor and the numbers she tells me boggles my mind.

    Mike, Doh! I even remember reading that but I forgot to link to it. Sorry!

    Perry, thanks. I’ll add that to the body of the post.

  5. no worries dave, didn’t comment for the link love, rather to join the conversation…

    one other comment – while i’ve been using my reader on the train, i get looks of curious looks, but no one has asked me about it yet, so it’s either commonplace enough that folks know what it is or its the typical “no one talks on the train to the apple” syndrome 😉

  6. *L* i know of 2 people who DO fall asleep with an ebook reader of sorts..
    i bought a NEC 790 several years ago off ebay. it take CF cards & pc mcia cards, (and various adapter using the first 2 options), and really, is pretty cool. The (then) price was bout $120 or so w/shipping.
    it reads any file out there that i use on a regular basis. text, html, word..pdf even. i can play games, draw, take notes(it hs a touch screen). as i was saying many is the night have i have fallen asleep literally, on my side cradling this thing in my arms reading. i can change the background to black w/ green font. as white with black print gives me headaches.

    so why would anyone pay a so much monmey for something that has such limited functionality?

    well thats my 2 cents worth..
    Happy holidays!!

  7. I like that last comment. I usually fall asleep reading ebooks on my laptop it is easy to take to bed unlike the desktop.

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