If Kindle Books Could Kill
Amazon won the ebook market in a landslide, though it's not clear how large a prize that really is. Some data shows ebook sales declining as print makes an unexpected surge, while other studies say digital reading continues to grow steadily. What's crystal clear is that ebooks won't unseat print anytime soon.
People like the feel of a book, like the sense of place they get from holding the opened pages in their two hands, like the way they look on a coffee table. The Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of US adults said they'd read a print book in , out of 73 percent who said they'd read a book at all. The only thing that will kill print books is when people stop reading altogether. There is one part of people's reading habits has changed dramatically over the last few years. That same Pew study found that people were nearly four times as likely to read a book on a tablet in as they had been five years earlier.
They were also nearly twice as likely to read on their phones, and reading on a laptop or desktop PC spiked as well.
All three are now more popular than reading on an e-reader. As reader habits has changed, so has Kindle. At first, all these new platforms posed a bit of a dilemma for Amazon. If it made the Kindle service widely available on every platform and device, as customers wanted, it risked cannibalizing its own device. Limp says there was a debate over what to do, but also says it didn't last very long.
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More recently, Amazon has invested in combining its Audible ebooks with the Kindle service, so users can flip between reading and listening with the touch of a button. Limp says the company is also looking for ways to make Alexa's voice more natural, the better for long-form book listening.
And they hope the assistant can be the greatest literary tool on the planet. For a decade, Amazon's relentlessly offered new ways for people to read books. But even as platforms change, books haven't, and the incompatibility is beginning to show. Phones and tablets contain nothing of what makes a paperback wonderful. They're full of distractions, eye-wrecking backlights, and batteries that die in a few hours.
If Books Could Kill
They also open up massive new opportunities. On a tablet, books don't have to consist only of hundreds of pages set in a row. They can be easily navigable, endlessly searchable, and constantly updated. They can use images, video, even games to augment the experience. But it was never anything more than a temporary tactic. The next phase for the digital book seems likely to not resemble print at all. Instead, the next step is for authors, publishers, and readers to take advantage of all the tools now at their disposal and figure out how to reinvent longform reading.
Just as filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh are experimenting with what it means to make a "movie" that's really an app on a totally interactive device with a smaller screen , Amazon and the book world are beginning to figure out what's possible when you're not dealing with paper anymore. In , the design firm IDEO made a concept video called "The Future of the Book" that imagined several screen-based reading experiences. One invited you to participate in the book by texting with characters, going to important locations, and even helping write the narrative.
A year later, Sony introduced the Wonderbook, a Playstation-connected thing that turned a hardback book into an augmented-reality surface. Google's been experimenting with Visual Editions , its "un-printable books," for the last couple of years. Over the years plenty of companies have come and gone from the App Store, trying to make text into something more exciting.
Right now, chat stories are all the rage, turning a story into a series of fast-paced text messages, revealed one tap at a time. The challenge for all these new formats, though, is that there's no larger system that helps people make, sell, and consume them. As a result, most of the experimentation in the book industry happens within existing categories. McDonald and others are playing with timing, releasing a book faster or slower than usual, and with length and size. They're also trying new things in audio, which has proven the most fertile ground for new ideas about reading.
He notes as an example Robin Sloan's new book, Sourdough , for which Sloan actually wrote the music that plays such a critical role in the book and sprinkled it throughout the audiobook. There's also George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo , which was adapted was a full-fledged drama, with different voices narrating the story. But one is still a book, and the other is still an audiobook.
If Amazon wanted to, it could with a single act bring a new form of book into being. A Kindle tablet to rival the iPad? One indication that Amazon plans to continue releasing new Kindles in the months and years ahead comes from the Web site of its design division, Lab , based in Cupertino, Calif. I count a whopping 46 new job postings on the Lab career board in the last two months alone. The Kindle store will continue to thrive.
Amazon smartly separated its Kindle hardware division from its Kindle e-book store and has since released or announced Kindle apps for the iPhone, PC, Mac and BlackBerry. Despite the fact that many consumers will now choose an iPad over a Kindle, Amazon will likely undercut Apple on e-book prices. If publishers band together to withhold cheaper e-books from Amazon in favor of pricier ones on Apple, there could be some legal issues — more on this later.
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