Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Well, everybody, what do we think? The first picture I saw today that showed the iPad next to a Kindle, I thought, Why in the hell would anybody buy the Kindle?

Well, there are certainly reasons, the main ones being price, and the difference between electronic ink and a backlit LCD. But perhaps the iPad screen isn't as fatiguing to look at as a laptop screen (it's an IPS display, as well, which certainly makes it nicer to look at from an angle); perhaps it would be a delight to read a book on it. The page turning animation is quite impressive, and the iBooks store has rather a cute interface--an implausibly uncluttered bookcase that flips around to reveal a bookstore.

As our son Owen said, I'd sure like it if our real bookcases had a bookstore behind them. In the case of the virtual bookstore, I'd sure like it if independent publishers were represented there. But upon first blush, the whole package looks very impressive, especially if you're also in the market for a small email and video-viewing machine.

All of that said, this is the first time I've truly felt that independent new bookstores were doomed. Apple, by creating a highly appealing, reasonably-priced gadget that, among other things, will sell you electronic books, is casually dictating the future of publishing. (Similarly, the incapacity of the iPad to run Flash isn't really a liability--rather, it spells the death knell of Flash. Nobody will want to have a web site you can't view on the iPad.)

And finally, however nice it might be to read books on this thing, it won't be as nice as reading a real one, at least not for me. As an e-reader, it seems to be solving a problem that not only isn't a problem--it's an inadequate technology, cleverly but unnecessarily mimicking an already perfect one. But our habits change with the technology, for better or worse. And for better or worse, I think the publishing industry just got a big wake-up call.


rmellis said...

Could there be any worse name than "iPad," though?

I mean!

I can't imagine this would feel good to type on for any length of time. If all our keyboards turn into these virtual things, we'll be seeing a lot of flash fiction.

Anyway, technology is certainly outpacing our needs these days, and even our (my) desires.

5 Red Pandas said...

It should kill the Kindle pretty much.

I like that you can get a keyboard dock. I see this appealing to commuters. People in big cities (NYC!) who ride public transportation and have to do lots of walking. Laptops seem portable, but even at 4-5 pounds, they become a drag to carry around, especially if you transfer trains a few times, walk 4-5 blocks to the office, stop off at the gym on the way home. Walk the 3-4 blocks from your stop to your apt., etc. This looks like it would be very pleasant to carry around, even with a keyboard dock.

The iPad would be nice for textbooks. Who enjoys 20 pound textbooks? I'd love it if they cut the price on textbooks.

I could see my students doing their electronic research on this- especially since all the databases allow you to e-mail articles to yourself. Not as much need for a full keyboard when doing research. If they need to do word processing they can just use a desktop or laptop reserved for that purpose. These would be much easier to give out and collect than the laptops I distribute in my library. Then again, they're probably easier to steal & damage but that's always an issue. If the price was right I'd order a bunch of electronic magazine subscriptions for my library. I know kids would like to read sports illustrated, etc. on the thing because they would think it was cool, and the graphics would look good. I'm sure I could think up a bunch of reasons why this would become a hot commodity in my library.

I don't know what kind of impact this will have on publishing of fiction books, or print in general. I actually read the Times more completely now that I have an iPod touch. It's more convenient than the print edition, especially on a crowded subway, but I don't read books on my iPod. Would I read books on the iPad? Not sure. It would be more attractive to read a huge book like "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" on an iPad than lugging it around on the subway- and a book like that, where you're hooked- yes, you end up lugging it on the subway.

So, I'm not sure how attractive this will be to people who drive and don't have to worry about how heavy their daily load is, but I could see it working for myself, and in my library. Now just to find some money to buy the things...bad enough that we only get $6.25 per student, per year for books from the state, but libraries don't automatically get technology funding even though we've become the technology center.

Danny said...

"All of that said, this is the first time I've truly felt that independent new bookstores were doomed."

I work for one of the big corporate book stores, and it seems to me that they're in much more danger than the independents. The big ones sell, not only books, but CDs, DVDs, and newspapers, all three of which are rapidly going away. In the end, the demand for a certain level of profits that stockholders expect will kill the chains, which in and of itself I have no problem with. The indies, however, not having to rely on stockholders and corporate profit margins, will have an easier time, especially if all the chains go under. This of course doesn't take into account the publishing side of things. At the very least, there will always, I think, be indy book stores, just as there are comic book stores, record stores, and other such labors of love that barely turn a profit, if indeed they do at all.

jrlennon said...

A facebook chum of Rhian's was talking about how the B&N that killed her local indies has just itself died, leaving her very large town without a viable physical bookstore. A sign of things to come?

Poor B&N...they have utterly botched their ebook reader, too...

jrlennon said...

Now that the smoke has cleared a bit, it occurs to me that this thing really ought to be marketed by Apple as a Kindle killer, period--which just happens to do some other things. Their efforts to present it as "better than a netbook" seem a little lame...I mean, you can watch Hulu and Netflix on a netbook. The iPad certainly doesn't replace a laptop any more than the iPhone does.

It's hard to see somebody like me buying it, as appealing a gadget as it is. The one place it would really excel would be for reading--in my case, reading student work and online articles. But why not make iBooks the big thing?

Not that I'm especially eager, like I said, to see electronic books take over the world.

Sung said...

I think this will take a big chunk out of Kindle sales, but even more so, netbooks. I own one of these small laptops (Eee PC) to watch Hulu videos when I'm on the stationary bike and take along on trips for browsing and email. Even though the Eee is small and light, it's nowhere as light as the iPad.

I don't think this is going to kill Flash, though. Flash is so entrenched, and is used in so many websites (plus videos), that if nothing else, it'll just muck up site coding even more (i.e., if iPad, show another snippet of code) for developers.

The iPhone has been able to get away with no Flash (or Java) support, but that's because it's a tiny little thing that isn't fully-fledged. When you have something as large as the iPad, and it is supposed to hold the Internet in your hands (as spoken by Jobs), then it better be able to show all parts of the Internet.

I've never been a Mac guy (I still don't own an iPod but rather other MP3 devices), and initially, I thought I'd jump on this, but the more I think about it, the more I believe I'll wait until Gates and Co. bring out their second-tier Windows Tablet knockoffs. Because then I will have Flash and Java, I'll be able to run Times Reader (which is almost exactly what the Times iPad app looks like), and it'll probably be a hundred bucks cheaper.

- Sung

QualityPoint said...

Will Apple iPad kill Amazon Kindle?

jon said...

i heard an interview on NPR this morning with a publishing industry guy who said the iPad would ultimately be good for them because the iBook store would allow publishers to set the price of a book above Amazon's $9.99. He said selling ebooks at $9.99 was suicide for publishers. I say, recycle! buy used books.

5 Red Pandas said...

People are criticizing the fact that you can only run one app at a time- and I agree with them- but it made me think that it kind of makes it perfect for my students. I'd love to be able to get them to focus entirely on the task at hand because when they multitask they barely get anything useful done and it's a huge waste of time. I bet they'd get the articles they need for their research much faster without the ability to sneak listening to music, playing videos, etc.

If they read magazines or books on it, they'd also be forced to concentrate instead of have 4 things going on at once.

I think the reason they're not marketing is solely as an e-reader is because they don't want to lose the market that doesn't read. Since I got my iPod touch I really only have to use my laptop if I'm word processing or doing very interactive web stuff. It's actually much easier to check and delete e-mail from the iPod since it's all in one place. Much of what we do on the Internet is passive, and these devices are good for passive usage. They're not better than a laptop, but in reality many people probably don't need or use all of the things a laptop does.

Will I get one? Not sure.

Daniel Peiser said...

Kindles and other ebook readers need to be priced below $100. Amazon, Barnes & Noble should focus in selling ebooks, and producing 6-7" ereaders in my opinion.
I'm not sure that the iPad could be good for ebooks, because of E-Ink etc., but I don't think that it's meant to be a Kindle killer either, it's aimed at a totally different target.

ce's geekbook said...

I never really got the Kindle thing .. just was not in to it .. if I want to read a book I pick up the book. there is so much information on the web to read .. I really have not read a book in years.

The IPad launch will be a huge $$ maker for Apple. and this launches a whole new avenue for Apple on the revenue generation side. But with that said ..

The first generation seems just to be another gadget to carry around. It can not replace a Laptop or even a NetBook for that matter. For even normal day uses ie. no multi-tasking, Flash support, ... ect.

Nor will it even replace the iPhone or iPod Touch ... try carrying this around in your pocket much less taking it to the gym.

It definitely looks cool but just will not be on my top list of have to haves.

Anonymous said...

The great thing about the iPad and perhaps Apple's business model in general, is that if you're an independent publisher (or author), you can come out with a free app through which you can sell your books right now, at this very moment. It's really the easiest thing in the world. It would take about two weeks for someone to program their own eBook app for the iPad and then people could buy books right through the app. There's no chance of piracy this way, as in-app purchases are protected through iTunes. (There would be if the app itself was a book, but that's a more complicated subject.)

Just as an example, you could have a JRL app in the store and through the app itself, you could sell your short stories for $x.xx each. You could do this with weird or experimental stuff or just things you want people to see. But the infrastructure is there already, in place now. Just waiting.

I wish, for example, some of the small presses would do this, especially for this iPad deally. The app could have music and audio (of the author reading snippets), etc. It also ideal for something like a zine or a start-up lit mag or independent comics.

It is, of course, different than going to a store to buy a book, which is a lovely, wonderful thing in itself, but the difference should be exploited for its differentness. eBook apps shouldn't kill independent bookstore sales, they should be a different market altogether. If it's done right, it could be really amazing. Of course, who knows. Innovation is the key, really.

Matt said...

As an aside (aside from the technological features of the poorly-named iPad, that is), I worry about where Apple is headed in terms of controlling the distribution of music, movies/TV shows, and now books. In a potentially monopolistic fashion, that is.

I've heard stories of Apple using iTunes as leverage in negotiations with media publishers in order to get a cheaper rate (and greater control) on the sale of other properties.

Part of the problem stems from the mergers which happened in the 90s that created music/film/TV/print/web media empires in the first place.

I like Apple. Heck, I use a MacBook Pro. But iWorry.

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