Tablets/Ereaders

Why Amazon keeps making tablets when the market has been struggling

6 July 2018

From The Washington Post:

The tablet, as a gadget, hasn’t had a great couple of years. The Consumer Technology Association, the tech industry group, expects that sales of tablets will drop 12 percent this year and revenue for those sales will drop 13 percent, extending several quarters of steady decline. The main bright spot in the market has been high-end laptop replacements, such as the Microsoft Surface or iPad Pro, with detachable keyboards. The familiar slate design has all but gone to collect dust in many minds.

That is, except at Amazon.com. There, tablet sales seem to be growing, and the products remain an integral part of the company’s strategies for selling its goods and services to consumers. Amazon ended 2017 as the world’s second-largest tablet maker, behind Apple, having overtaken Samsung during the holiday season, according to International Data Corp., which tracks tablet shipments.

Last week, the online retail giant released a new version of the Amazon Fire, the Kids Edition HD 10, a durable 10-inch tablet aimed at children, for $200. It also released a $40 dock that lets tablet owners put their devices into “Show Mode,” turning them into a screen that acts more like a small television for watching on-demand video, which you can control with your voice.

. . . .

Amazon doesn’t release sales figures, but analysts at IDC said that last year the company’s tablet business grew 50 percent in the holiday quarter,when it makes most of its tablet sales. Compare that with Apple, which IDC estimates saw just 0.6 percent growth at that time, or Samsung, which saw its market share decline by 13 percent from the previous year.

One likely reason behind Amazon’s success is that its tablets are inexpensive. A basic iPad will cost you $329; Amazon’s comparable tablet comes in at $150. Those prices are so relatively low that it may be easier to justify buying one to watch YouTube videos in the kitchen or to hand to the kids as a gadget of their own before buying them something pricier.

. . . .

But a relatively cheap price doesn’t sell a device all on its own. Amazon has also doubled down on pushing tablets as an entertainment experience. Take Show Mode. The feature allows you to watch content on your tablet on an ideal screen. “If you look at the usage on tablets, they’re essentially a television replacement,” Guenveur said.

Tablets also provide an alternative to dedicated Alexa devices, such as the Echo, she said. The Fire HD tablets now have Alexa voice control, allowing you to interact with them as you would with the Echo or Dot.

. . . .

With Amazon tablets, you never have to be without Alexa. And that’s exactly what Amazon likes to hear.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG suspects there may not be a very large overlap between the markets and reasons for a lot of consumers to purchase an iPad and a Kindle.

The Kindle is fine for kids. For one thing, the Amazon Kid’s Tablet – $99/two for $149 – when PG just checked prices) is as close to indestructible as a tablet is likely to get plus it has a two-year warranty in case you back over it with a dump truck. Combining the durability, price point and warranty, it’s a killer deal for parent-regulated video consumption, silence from the back seat, etc. And don’t forget that it comes with internet kid-safeness all ready to go.

Plus, of course, the Kindle is a near-ideal way of teaching children that Amazon is the place where you can buy anything online. The lifetime value of a customer who gets hooked on Amazon at age 7 is huge. Online purchases = Amazon.

iPads are lovely devices, but scratches on the screen or the case show. The Kindle is sort-of splash-proof, but even if your child drops it in the toilet, a parent is going to cringe less if a replacement costs $99 (or maybe free under warranty) instead of $400.

As BookExpo and New York Rights Fair Open: Warnings for Publishers

30 May 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

‘Your competitors like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Audible,’ publishers will hear this year at BookExpo and the rival rights fair, ‘are more than willing to fill the gap.’

. . . .

The reality, he says, is that “big data” is not really the stuff of most publishers’ future traction in a digital world. Something that may well seem like “little data” is, because it’s more available, readable, and actionable than the “big data” operations of major tech forces in the marketplace.

And the “invitation to a wild ride” he’s talking about is one that some will not accept gladly. It requires studying and analyzing many available “tracks” and trends at once, right down to what’s in a publisher’s “own backyard,” as we might say. “Who on your staff and around your own house reports back, in some structured way,” he asks, “on what they read, or how their kids operate their smartphones?”

What Wischenbart says he’s seeing is that even in the largest houses, such as Penguin Random House with its armada of imprints “acting like little companies,” the corporation can certainly engage in larger data activities, “but they don’t have the tool set,” he says, “to listen to what their employees are doing.”

. . . .

“[E]ven traditional readers—a majority of them urban, well-educated and older than 40—have seen their ‘mobile time’ rising from a modest 26 minutes in 2012 to more than one hour in 2017.”

Among Millennials, he says, “mobile time” may be expanding to as much as three hours per day.

But look at corresponding numbers in publishing markets that Wischenbart cites in his new article.

In Germany, data in Wischenbart’s report shows more than 6 million book buyers disappearing in the past five years . . . . Today, publishers there, he says, see a maximum audience of some 30 million in a total population of 80 million.

. . . .

Wischenbart has his fictitious publisher say to herself, “We need to stick to our bread and butter, to the rare books that hit the top of the charts, the well-established authors. Well, we even need the copy-cat income, or other cheap thrills, to simply secure a continuous income.”

But is that true? Wischenbart agrees in an interview with Publishing Perspectives that the blockbuster isn’t where publishers can afford to focus today, and not only because we’re in a largely blockbuster-less drought in the US market.

Wischenbart agrees that the buyer of the biggest blockbuster may do no more for the industry and for reading than pay for her or his one copy: these are generally not habitual readers. They’re novelty readers, readers drawn to the occasional breakthrough phenomenon, entertainment patrons who drop in on the world of books to catch a peak moment, then sail off to cinema, video, games, and music.

“I would phrase it this way,” Wischenbart says from his office in Austria. “First, the transformation that has been predicted now is here. It has arrived. We’re not talking about the future.

“And the transformation is much deeper” than many who became fixated on ebooks and perhaps today are transfixed by audiobooks’ uptake might think. “It’s a transformation of consumer behavior and habits.

“Second, such rough waters of transformation are creating higher risk” than publishers may have realized, not least because they’ve thought of “digital” as being about formats and largely now accomplished.”

. . . .

“I do see a difference in the US and UK markets and the rest of the world,” he says, in terms of how in the big US and UK markets, publishing has an upbeat sense that it knows where it’s going. “Hardly anyone in the industry in continental Europe or elsewhere feels so comfortable.”

The sense of greater comfort, command, and solidity in the UK and American markets, he agrees, may come from a plethora of self-congratulatory awards programs and morale-boosting coverage. “They’re always winning,” he says about such trends, which can lead a market to believe that all is going better than may be the reality.

. . . .

“Right now, my inkling is that a lot of truly critical information sits in drawers and on hard disks, underused, if noticed at all.

“We see, day by day, how publishing is getting ever more segmented. From formerly three distinct sectors, trade or consumer versus educational versus professional or academic, we have moved into an ever-thinner slicing of the cake that used to be served in the business of books.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG has long noted that the traditional book business lacks even rudimentary data skills.

Its reliance on Neilson and other data sources that do not include data from Amazon, by far the world’s largest bookstore, is Exhibit A.

Exhibit B is Big Publishing’s schizoid frienemies attitude toward Amazon, its largest customer.

For those who are newcomers to the recent history of Big Publishing’s strategies for dealing with ebooks and Amazon, in 2012, the United States Department of Justice charged Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan with illegally conspiring with Apple to fix ebook prices in the United States.

This group was conspiring to keep ebook prices high to prop up sales of printed books. Amazon, which was selling ebooks at low prices to help sell Kindle devices and expand the ebook market, was the target of this conspiracy.

In 2013, after each of these large publishers had admitted to acting in violation of antitrust laws, a trial judge found Apple guilty of participating in this same illegal price-fixing conspiracy. Apple appealed and the trial court’s decision was affirmed in 2015.

Exhibit C is Author Earnings, a small organization that does have people with good data skills.

Beginning in 2014, Author Earnings began to release a series of reports that detailed ebook sales on Amazon by both traditional publishers and by individual self-publishers working through the Kindle Direct Publishing program. This series of reports demonstrated that ebook sales indie authors were a large and growing segment of the overall ebook market.

As additional Author Earnings reports were released periodically, they reflected the continuing growth in the market for indie-published ebooks. Indie authors came to dominate ebook sales in the romance, fantasy and science fiction genres.

Had Big Publishing been willing to hire employees with any sort of data skills, it could have duplicated the work of Author Earnings and developed even more sophisticated analyses because of access to its own ebook sales data (which was not made available to Author Earnings).

Big Publishing has consistently elected to base its business decisions on hunches generated by a small group of former English majors running its businesses in Manhattan. The “golden gut” school of publishing management has resulted in Big Publishing missing the ebook train and failing to treat Amazon as a potential window into the rapidly-changing and ever-growing ebook market.

Another disadvantage Big Publishing has is that, by New York City standards, it doesn’t pay very well. A twenty-something with data skills can receive a much larger salary from any number of other employers who are not in the publishing business.

PG will restrain himself from commenting on the blinkered view of the world common in the large European holding companies that own all but one of the largest US publishers. Suffice to say, New York publishing executives are not receiving a lot of phone calls and emails from Europe urging them to invest more in technologies and people that will position the publisher favorably for a new and different future.

There is a growing negative sentiment towards e-readers

29 May 2018

From Good Ereader:

There are many mainstream online media outlets that proclaim that the e-reader has lost its shine and that the hardware is in a state of decline.  The Barnes and Noble Nook is cited as the leading example of an e-reader that was once relevant, but not anymore.  Are people no longer buying new e-readers anymore and reading on their smartphones and tablets? Is it simply the case of  e-readers not being trendy or hip anymore?

Tom’s Hardware believes that e-readers are catering to a diminishing audience. “More than one-quarter of U.S. adults read no books in 2016; of the 74% who did, some read a single book “in part.” The average U.S. reader finishes from four to 12 books per year, depending on whether you want to go with the median or the mean. The number of people who read, and the amount that they read, have both been steadily decreasingsince the early ’80s.”

Only 19% of U.S. adults owned an e-reader in 2015, and the numbers didn’t vary much by sex, location or age. Twenty-seven percent of affluent individuals surveyed owned an e-reader, and they were the most enthusiastic buyers by far. Compare and contrast: 68% of U.S. adults owned a smartphone in the same year, and 87% of affluent individuals did, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

. . . .

The Barnes and Noble Nook has garnered the most negative sentiment about their e-reader unit. Fortune said “As for its once large Nook e-reader business, Barnes & Noble at least stopped losing money on it, but sales fell 28% as device prices fell. Nook, launched in 2009, held its own against Amazon’s Kindle for a while. And Barnes & Noble, which has lost about $1.3 billion in the last six years on the Nook business, says Nook is essential to feeding its e-book and online business. But given the performance of Nook, and the resources it siphons away, one analyst wondered whether it was time to pull the plug on what was once a $933 million a year business. Nook had sales of $146.5 million last fiscal year. ”

“The fact the business is shrinking by so much demonstrates it is a very ineffective platform,” Neil Saunders, Managing Director of GlobalData Retail. “B&N would be better to scrap NOOK entirely and focus its efforts in developing a better online platform and apps to support its business.”

. . . .

Arnaud Nourry, chief executive of Hachette Livre, made the comment to the Indian news site Scroll.in in a wide-ranging interview about Hachette’s future in India, which also touched on digital publishing. According to Nourry, the “plateau, or rather slight decline”, that ebook sales have seen in the US and the UK in recent years is “not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the ebook format. The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience,” said Nourry.

This lack of creativity is partly publishers’ lack of digital know-how, according to Nourry. “We, as publishers, have not done a great job going digital. We’ve tried. We’ve tried enhanced or enriched ebooks – didn’t work. We’ve tried apps, websites with our content – we have one or two successes among a hundred failures. I’m talking about the entire industry. We’ve not done very well.  “I’m convinced there is something we can invent using our content and digital properties beyond ebooks, but I reached the conclusion that we don’t really have the skills and talents in our companies, because publishers and editors are accustomed to picking a manuscript and creating a design on a flat page. They don’t really know the full potential of 3-D and digital,” he said.

“Part of the positive pressure that digital has exerted on the industry is that publishers have rediscovered their love of the physical,” says James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones.”

“It was new and exciting,” says Cathryn Summerhayes, a literary agent at Curtis Brown. “But now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they? I guess everyone wants a piece of trendy tech and, unfortunately, there aren’t trendy tech reading devices and I don’t think people are reading long-form fiction on their phones. I think your average reader would say that one of the great pleasures of reading is the physical turning of the page. It slows you down and makes you think.”

Link to the rest at Good Ereader

PG suggests that sales of ereaders by themselves don’t matter to both traditional and indie publishing nearly as much as sales of devices capable of functioning as ereaders. Of course this includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. He realizes that small and portable is preferable, but the more devices that can be used to read an ebook, the better is is for people trying to sell ebooks.

PG further suggests that growth in Amazon Fire and Kindle Ereader sales are a better single-company proxy for future ebook sales than Nook is. Barnes & Noble is circling the drain and people who pay the slightest attention to the book world and know even a little bit about tech markets understand that the Nook is a classic example of a device that’s going to be orphaned in the near future.

Any day now, Leonard Riggio is going to tell whoever the president of Barnes & Noble is this week that the Nook business has to be wound down because there’s not enough cash to support continued purchases of Nook devices. To the extent the Nook store is not already running on autopilot, Leonard will tell the CEO to try to sell it to somebody in China or put it on autopilot.

PG enjoyed the quote from a Curtis Brown agent trying to launch an unhip ereader meme suggesting everybody knows it’s way cooler to lug a hardcover book around because “think”.

It’s 2018: Why Are So Many eReader Designs So Boring?

8 May 2018

From The Digital Reader:

Does anyone else think that ereader designs have gotten, well, rather boring?

I was looking at the new Jezetek ereaders this morning when I couldn’t help noticing how similar they looked to all other Kindle competitors out there. They were basic black rectangles with a screen and a few buttons, just like Onyx and Kobo’s devices.

When the eReader scene was new, every device looked distinct, and many were styled to look good. Now, except for the Kindle Oasis, they don’t.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Plateau Kindle Before Peak Kindle

19 March 2018

From Medium:

My wife thinks I’m insane. For a number of reasons, I suspect. But for the purposes of this post, I mean because of my gadget travel habits. You see, everywhere I go, I bring a MacBook, an iPad, and a Kindle. That’s on top of an iPhone, of course.

. . . .

I love my Kindle because it’s what I read every night before I fall asleep. And I know that if I don’t travel with it, I’ll get back into the bad habit of reading my phone (or tablet).³ Obviously, I check those before I go to bed, but I do try to set aside time to read without interruption before I sleep. It’s nice to read without distraction (and without as much backlight).

Couldn’t I just turn off the notifications on other devices? Sure. But I’m weak. When I read, my mind tends to wander. And on the iPad post-iOS 9, swiping left to bring up your Twitter feed is the new mind wandering. I will stray.

On the Kindle, I cannot. Yes, it has a web browser. But there’s a reason that feature has been labeled as “Experimental” since its inception. It’s terrible.

. . . .

But a quote by Dave Limp, Amazon’s head of hardware . . . seems to hold a key:

One thing about the Kindle itself won’t change, though: It’s not going to become anything more than a reading device. Amazon’s heard from so many customers over the years that they love their Kindle precisely for all the things it doesn’t do.It’s a respite from Facebook and news alerts, push notifications and emails. “The more that we’re distracted, the more valuable solitude becomes,” says Dave Limp, Amazon’s head of hardware. “The last thing I want is being absorbed into an author’s story, and get an uplevel notification for Angry Birds.” Reading is about focus, about falling out of your life and into a story, and so the Kindle is about those things too.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG doesn’t know if he will die before his Kindle Paperwhite does, but, if the Kindle goes first, he will instantly order another.

Apple Leads Q4 Tablet Market; Amazon Climbs to No. 2

9 February 2018

From Wireless Week:

As Apple continued to dominate the tablet market in the final quarter of 2017, a new study finds that Amazon ousted Samsung to claim the second-largest share of the segment during the latest holiday shopping season.

The latest analysis from research firm IDC found that Apple shipped 13.2 million tablets in the final three months of the year. Although that represented a slight increase from the same period in 2016, the iPad maker bolstered its market share over that span from 24.3 percent to 26.6 percent.

Amazon, meanwhile, saw its shipments climb by 50 percent during that timeframe from 5.2 million to 7.7 million. The e-commerce giant bolstered its share of the tablet market from less than 10 percent to more than 15 percent.

Link to the rest at Wireless Week

Carrefour is closing their ebook store and abandons e-readers

29 January 2018

From GoodEreader:

Carrefour is one of the largest supermarket chains in France and they have been involved in the e-reader space since 2013. The company has announced that it is closing their digital bookstore and suspending their relationship with Bookeen, who provided devices to them under the Nolim brand. This is going to result in over 2,400 people losing their jobs.

. . . .

The French ebook market will generate $442 million dollars in 2018 and 9.2% of the population reads digitally. The vast majority of users purchase their e-readers and ebooks via two companies; Amazon and Kobo. Kobo has a strategic relationship with numerous booksellers such as FNAC and Auchan. Amazon continues to be the most popular device.

Link to the rest at GoodEreader

The Kindle Changed the Book Business. Can It Change Books?

21 December 2017

From Wired:

In 2007, A small team of Amazon employees had been working for a few years on a new ebook reader project they’d eventually call the Kindle. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was eager to finish and sell the thing; he was certain Apple or Google was working on something similar, and didn’t want them to beat Amazon to market. The team, sequestered away in an old law office in Seattle, working among racks of the very books they planned to make obsolete, had already gotten a lot of things right. But one part still eluded them.

. . . .

“We knew we wanted it to be a wireless device that had no contract for customers,” Kessel says, but nothing like that existed. So Amazon worked with Qualcomm to build a system called Whispernet, which gave every Kindle owner free 3G connectivity so they could download books from anywhere. The feature felt like magic—both to the Kindle team and to early Kindle buyers. If you had to pick just one thing that made the Kindle a success, it was this.

. . . .

Since then, the device has torn through the publishing landscape. Not only is Amazon the most powerful player in the industry, it has built an entire book-based universe all its own. “Kindle” has become a platform, not a device. Like Amazon tends to do, it entered the market and utterly subsumed it.

Now, however, Amazon’s ebook project comes to a crossroads. The Kindle team has always professed two goals: to perfectly mimic a paper book, and to extend and improve the reading experience. That’s what readers want, too. In a world filled with distractions and notifications and devices that do everything, the Kindle’s lack of features becomes its greatest asset. But readers also want to read everywhere, in places and ways a paperback can’t manage. They want more tools, more features, more options, more stuff to do. Amazon’s still working out how to satisfy both sides.

. . . .

Everyone at Amazon likes to say that paper is great technology, and they seem genuinely uninterested in rendering paper obsolete. They’re just trying to make paper that connects to the internet. The Kindle they’ve always imagined is thin as paper, as light as paper, as flexible and durable as paper.

. . . .

Next up, flexibility seems at the top of the Kindle team’s minds. Building a Kindle “like paper” would mean one that can be rolled, folded, dog-eared, and turned into a paper airplane, and the beginnings of that tech is already showing up in prototypes and concept devices around the world.

. . . .

“The more that we’re distracted, the more valuable solitude becomes,” says Dave Limp, Amazon’s head of hardware. “The last thing I want is being absorbed into an author’s story, and get an uplevel notification for Angry Birds.” Reading is about focus, about falling out of your life and into a story, and so the Kindle is about those things too.

. . . .

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 2016, 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 2016 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.

. . . .

Limp says there was a debate over what to do, but also says it didn’t last very long. “You can’t tell them where they want to read,” he says. “They’re going to tell you where they want to read, and you have to be there.” So they built apps for everybody’s phones and tablets, and even the Chrome browser.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

“The Kindle’s aura of bookishness was the modern equivalent of the Gutenberg Bible’s aura of scribalness,” Nicholas Carr, the author and media scholar, wrote in 2011. “It was essentially a marketing tactic, a way to make traditional book readers comfortable with e-books. But it was never anything more than a temporary tactic.” Carr should have been right, but six years later nothing’s really changed.

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.

. . . .

If Amazon wanted to, it could with a single act bring a new form of book into being.

Link to the rest at Wired

Nate Hoffhelder comments at The Digital Reader:

The thing that many outsiders keep missing is that Amazon won the ebook market by giving consumers exactly the same stories they were already reading, only in a new package. Yes, Amazon invested huge sums in making the Kindle platform friction-free, but when you come down to it the content being delivered was the same as before – the only change was the medium it was delivered on.

And that is why it succeeded where previous attempts faltered. Amazon gave consumers the content they already wanted, only on a new medium that let readers carry hundred of books at a time.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG agrees with Nate about the same content in a new medium. PG would also be happy to have something better than a book show up, but, while he has read hundreds of magazine articles about new technology that will replace words on a screen, he hasn’t seen anything that looks very likely to do the job performed by books any better.

Journalists always have the idea that people want movies more than they want books. So text-only books are going to disappear in favor of a book-like thing that will have sound and video and interactive stuff that will magically work together and be better than text on a page or screen.

PG says large numbers of people like movies and TV shows and books, but there is no indication yet that those people really want something that smooshes all of those things together into a single storytelling experience with tiny actors and actresses dancing across a little screen interspersed with a series of MRI images and a video of a doctor explaining the symptoms of foot and ankle injuries.

PG suggests that one of the cool things about ebooks is that they don’t require big production budgets like movies do. If you’re going to create a successful movie or tv show, you need to find a large audience that is collectively willing to pay a lot of money to watch the production or, alternatively, watch a lot of commercials from businesses who are willing to spend a lot of money to interrupt the movie with commercials.

You need a mass market to fund mass market media.

In the age of ebooks, an individual author can fund the complete book creation process all by herself or himself. Creation requires time and a computer of some sort. Even a clunky old computer will serve to operate a word processing program and run a browser for uploading ebook files. You can probably use one at the library for free.

So a self-funded author combines with an ultra-low-cost distribution system like KDP to provide low-priced ebooks. And she doesn’t need a mass market for her books.

The author can make a living by creating books for a much smaller audience than is required for a traditionally-published book where sales have to support (1) Ingram and (2) Barnes & Noble plus pay for a lot of (3) expensive publishing people in New York and also (4) send a bunch of money to France or Germany or somewhere else where the (5) Big Bosses and (6) owners live.

So an indie author can find enough readers on Amazon who are willing to pay $2.99 for mysteries featuring a near-sighted ornithologist as amateur sleuth to quit her day job and live comfortably in Omaha. And another indie author can do the same with a mystery series featuring a far-sighted professor of philately as amateur sleuth while New York publishers continue to desperately search for the next James Patterson because those publishers are stuck in the million-seller business.

While PG has read a lot of tech magazine articles about high-tech devices that combine all possible entertainment options into something that fits in your pocket or purse and will immerse you so totally that you’ll never want to put it down, he doesn’t recall any similar stories about the impact of online bookstores on readers and authors.

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