(photo courtesy Engadget)
Kobo todaythey will be selling a lower-end, dedicated ebook reader for $149 at Indigo in Canada and Borders in the USA. The unit itself is pretty basic; you transfer your books via USB, and it has some nice UI flourishes, but that’s about it. All day various websites have crowed that this is the start of the slide to a magic $99 ebook reader, and I agree. The bigger question, though, is what market does a cheap ebook reader serve?
This is a fairly easy one; you wouldn’t necessarily expect a child to take good care of a full-blown tablet, but a cheap, rugged ebook reader loaded with age-appropriate books would be a hit. Even with eInk, this could work well. Pair it with a good text-t0-speech engine, and it is a great tool to help encourage reading!
Yes, the whole “Kindle as a textbook” idea hasn’t really gone anywhere, but what about purely for reference materials and supplementary articles? Sell them in bulk to schools, along with dead-easy conversion software. Bookstores could then “rent” the devices to students, and professors could email out ePUB/text versions of interesting articles or passages students should read. Package the whole thing pre-loaded as an alternative to supplement packets. Since it isn’t the main textbook, note-taking and other complaints are not as big of an issue, and it could be positioned as a cheaper alternative to bound versions of the same material.
Rather than stock 50 copies of 10 classrooms worth of books, rent the students ebook readers for the year. Charge a nominal amount, and provide them pre-loaded and software locked with the curriculum for the year. It saves the school or township the wear and tear on books and replacements, and if they go the route of charging, say, $10.00/semester for the rental it could bring in a small revenue stream too!
Just like the iPhone hasn’t killed the iPod Shuffle for exercise, the iPad/tablets won’t kill the cheap books for beach reading. Package a cheap reader with a waterproof or rugged case, throw in a few “beach read” type freebie books, and people would snap it up for vacations. Why risk ruining your iPad or another tablet with sand and salt, when there’s a device that’s cheap enough that you don’t mind risking it, AND still reads your books? This last idea I am especially fond of, as I am currently reviewing a Jetbook Lite and have been thinking all day how perfect a device it is for a beach bag.
Finally, there’s always the people who can’t or don’t wish to spend a great deal of money on technology. Whether it is for economic reasons or just being frugal, dropping $250+ on an ebook reader is not happening for them. These are the people who everyone seems to be thinking of first when they talk about the $99 magical price point, and it’s important to remember that they have always been influential buyers. Witness the success of the Palm Centro, the iPod shuffle, the Palm M100…even netbooks! Everyone loves a bargain.
Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner:
So in all of these, I see the big winners being Kobo, Amazon and possibly B&N. Kobo is being aggressive about pushing into every possible facet of the ebook market, and they’re carefully linking all the pieces together. Amazon isn’t far behind, and if they can either drop the Kindle 2 price or release a Kindle Mini, they will sew up the ebook market pretty tightly. B&N has the potential, but currently, their various programs and devices don’t sync across one another, and they need to straighten out B&N’s “eReader” from Fictionwise’s “eReader”. Their new CEO is very digitally focused, though, so don’t count them out yet. This, of course, all goes back to my thoughts on Amazon and Kobo’s business strategies versus the iBooks program, and is just further reason to avoid iBooks until the dust settles!
Do you agree with my target demographics? Did I miss anything? What is your “magic price point” for an ebook reader? Share your thoughts below!