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Lab Notes Blog

Sooner Than I Thought
by Daniel Grotta

June 22, 2010

Tags: iPad, Apple, Kindle, Kindle 2, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Nook, eReaders, eReader, DRM, Digital Rights Management, Daniel's entries

Back on June 3rd, I clicked the Buy button on and purchased a Kindle 2.

For $259.

In an earlier blog, I predicted that prices on eReaders would fall rapidly and precipitously, as pressure from the iPad and next generation tablet competitors start eroding eReader market share. Only, I didn’t quite realize how very soon this would occur. This morning, Barnes & Noble knocked sixty bucks off its Nook eReader, from $259 to $199, so Amazon quickly did one better by offering its own discount of seventy bucks, from $259 to $189. (And then, there's the new WiFi --non 3G -- Nook at only $149.) These unannounced prices cuts will of course be most welcome to those who have not yet purchased an eReader, though they came too late for those of us who bought at full boat only a couple of weeks ago.

C’est la vie.

The bloodletting isn’t done, not by a long shot. eReader manufacturers may take a page from phone makers, which offer free or greatly discounted mobile phones in exchange for some sort of commitment to a data plan. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kindles or Nooks bundled with an Amazon or Barnes & Noble in-house book club – you know, buy six books and get your reader for free, or nearly so. Giving away a loss-leader eReader will not only get the buyer hooked on eBooks, but will probably lock them into buying from that particular vendor.

If eReaders are going to survive against tablets like the iPad, they will have to offer more bang for the buck. No, not in trying to match tablets, feature by feature (eReaders will lose every time), but by being much cheaper (under $99 is good, free is better), and offering better ergonomics (smaller and lighter), longer battery life (weeks rather than hours), greater ruggedness (it won’t break when dropped onto a sidewalk pavement), as well as easier, idiot-proof book purchases and downloads. And the presently inflexible DRM (Digital Rights Management) thing that locks your purchased book into a single device and format will have to change as well. You buy a book, it’s yours to read on any platform you own, and lend out, give away, or sell to whomever you please. Mind you, we’re not talking about copies and clones, but one single electronic file that you control – where it lives, and how it’s disposed of.

eReaders will probably get thinner and lighter and cheaper, but where there are now nearly a score of different devices, we’ll probably see the competition dwindle to perhaps a half-dozen at most.

That is, until school districts discover that it would be much more cost effective and efficient just to issue students a single eReader after Kindergarten (which they can use right through high school) and upload all their textbooks to it as required (and have them removed and assigned to the next class, once the school year is over). There’s a multi-billion dollar educational market just waiting for the next generation eReader hardware that will make back-breaking book bags be a thing of the past.

Stay tuned.