Saturday, 1 August 2009

Will the Kindle be the UK’s Big Christmas 09 Gift?

Once again its rumour control from Amazon but it does appear that the Kindle will arrive in the UK in time for Christmas. Problems relating to the complicated mobile phone networks have been overcome and a UK Kindle will hit the stores for the season of avarice. But who will the Kindle appeal too? Will it appeal to techno-junkies; I doubt it, unless they like their techno retro. For me the Kindle has the refinement and functionality of a 1980’s computer. Great, if we were in the 1980’s.

Or will it be serious readers ready to abandon paper for pixel after a lifetime of strolling around bookstore picking up books and browsing new titles by thumbing through physical pages of neatly laid text. This too somehow I doubt.

Readers are resilient and adaptable if nothing else though. Recent surveys have proven that the UK reader’s affair with traditional bookstores is already on the wane. A huge shift in the buying habits of readers has seen a marked transition to supermarket purchases. These soulless monoliths can hardly be compared with the charm and comfort of a book store with an in house cafe. So price and convenience is a defining factor. This group of readers, if they had the available income would almost certainly opt for an eReader like the Kindle; sadly though the majority of these readers are on a lower income and not as likely to be able to afford buying an electronic reader. They have more pressing matters for what little disposable income they may have.

As a publisher, the Kindle has appeal in providing a new platform, I will definitely be making our titles available to the platform. So I am not knocking Amazon’s endeavour; it’s just the functionality of the machine that concerns me. This is by no means a small piece of equipment. It may be light and thin but it’s bulky and not very pretty. I know looks aren’t everything but they are factors in deciding popularity, unfortunately. We all know the quiet girl/guy with the glasses and few friends is actually the girl/guy you should be going out with because he/she will try harder and is less vacuous, whereas the glamour boy/girl is often all looks and little substance. But look at the popularity of the iPhone, it has some great apps and looks really good, yet behind it is some pretty ancient technology in phone industry terms. Whereas the Kindle looks like it was designed by boffins without a single aesthetic bone in their body.

Until more functionality, colour screens and better design is incorporated into eBook readers they will not achieve the potential they obviously could. I hope to be proven wrong, but eReaders of one sort or another have been available in the UK for over a year now and I have yet to see one in public or know anyone who has purchased one. There are more reasons for publishers wanting them to succeed; among them is the acceptance of eBooks as a product. The general public have to go through a whole new learning curve related in purchasing digital content. This is also a reason why the publishing industry should be embracing mobile phone publishing as a serious platform and revenue stream. eBooks work equally well on mobile phones even with small displays and with the ability to process JavaScript mobile phone eBooks can had the added functionality of multimedia. We all know how mobile phones appeal to young readers. They already use phones as cameras, for videoing, listening to music, downloading film and surfing the net. Reading books is surely just a tiny leap if they are marketed correctly.

Do people really want to carry around another piece of IT that can fail, run out of power or just be another burdensome artefact to get through customs while going on holiday? Let alone running the risks of breakage. We have laptops; we have phones, hell, we even have books, so are we ready to accept another lump of silicone and plastic whose only function is as a repository. I hope so, I really do, but I’d rather hedge my bets and ensure we don’t neglect mobile phone publishing in the race to embrace a Kindle whose market will be limited.

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