It’s no secret that I love reading ebooks on my phone, and that I am facinated with the Google Books Project. I am fascinated with both these concepts because I believe they could truly be game-changing for libraries and for the general information environment.
So the past few months have been pretty amazing. (I realize that all these announcements impact iPhone users more than non-iPhone users at this point in time, but their potential to impact the market could extend way beyond just today’s iPhone users.)
- December 2, 2008: Stanza announces a deal with Fictionwise to sell content to be read on its reader. At this point Stanza was the big player in iPhone ereaders. I’m not sure the exact timeline, but Stanza downloads outnumbered Kindle sales at one point. Stanza is a great reader, allowing you to change the colors of the font and background, text sizes, etc. It connects with several catalogs of works you can download for free so that you can wirelessly browse and acquire books. Fictionwise was the first seller that Stanza paired with, allowing users to get content that had to be purchased to be read. It was a clunky system, but changed the nature of what the Stanza reader could be.
- February 5, 2009: Google announces an optimized reader for the iPhone. The Google Books Project is pretty amazing. There is a vast library of content available, and this reader made it possible to access the materials easily on the iPhone. In some cases, it even converts the scanned image of the page into text. It has a great library, but vastly less functionality than Stanza.
- March 2, 2009: Amazon announces a free Kindle App for the iPhone. Amazon has the fullest library of titles, often with the best ebook prices, of anyone. The Kindle has clearly made an impact on the market, even if it’s not a runaway success. The price of the device gets in the way of the concept for many of us. It’s hard to justify a $300+ product that you still have to buy content for. The free iPhone app means people can experiment with the ebook model for just the price of a book. And once you have invested in a library, it’s not hard to imagine wanting to buy the Kindle device. Though, for the iPhone, I still think the Stanza Reader is a superior reading experience.
I wouldn’t dare try to guess the exact future, device, platform, or timeline, but I think it is pretty clear that we’re nearing some kind of tipping point for ebooks. The Stanza Reader helped me understand how ebooks could fit into my life. My phone is always with me, so if I’m standing in line, or waiting for my ride, I can fit in a few pages of whatever I’m currently checking out (as long as I’m interested in something in the Public Domain). The Kindle app makes it easier for me to imagine purchasing ebooks. I’ve already downloaded a bunch of free samples from books. And then it’s just a matter of time before I want a device with better battery life and that is easier on the eyes for long sessions of reading. Now, if only we could work on geek family ownership issues.