The Two Audiences for eBooks

The Two Audiences for eBooks

It occurred to me after reading this editorial at Teleread that there are really two audiences for ebooks. There are the people who just want to read a book. They’re happy picking up their reader or iPad, opening a book, and just reading. Maybe they want some minor options like font sizes, but talk to them about specific fonts, background colors, backlight adjustments, dictionary lookups, etc., and they’re going to glaze over. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a measure of what the audience wants or is taking advantage of in their device or software.

Then there’s the type of reader who wants to fine-grain control their reading experience. They want it all; a range of fonts, a range of sizes, multiple supported formats, dictionary, etc. Basically, they want the ability to truly leverage the promise of electronic books, the idea that the book itself can be malleable. That nothing except the content itself is set in stone. And these people are getting frustrated. Stanza is all but dead in the water at this point, with major staff members leaving and rumors that Amazon is refusing to let them release an iPad version.

And there’s no relief outside the app world and in the dedicated ebook reader world either. Fierce debates have broken out over the nook versus the Kindle, and the entry-level Kobo has already been alternately hailed as a savior and maligned for being too “dumbed down.” I think part of the issue is that while the “minimalist readers” can be happy with advanced models, consumers who desire more bells and whistles won’t want to step down to simpler models.

Unfortunately, manufacturers don’t seem to understand that, or at least aren’t mass marketing that. Instead, people who want that fine grain control are running around like Gear Diary’s Doug, trying to fit round pegs into square holes. I understand the business reasons behind Amazon and B&N trying to streamline their ebook holdings to their branded apps, and in fact, it’s something I’ve argued makes more sense for them. At the same time, if you own these other ebook stores and apps, why not use the best parts? Worst case scenario, no one uses the features. But not offering them is just silly; when someone isn’t using annotations or dictionary lookup, they won’t notice it’s missing, but if they need it, you bet they’re noticing and complaining bitterly about the lack!

eBooks are finally gaining major steam, but both publishers and manufacturers need to remember an important adage of retail. Happy customers tell one or two friends; angry customers tell 10.

Do you get frustrated with the lack of options in your ebook apps and readers? Sound off below!

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About the Author

Zek has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to their first PDA (a Palm M100). They quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. They love writing about ebooks because they combine their two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?

7 Comments on "The Two Audiences for eBooks"

  1. Joel McLaughlin | May 11, 2010 at 11:40 am |

    Nevermind that certain books need to be indexed different than other box. For example, Bibles. You should be able to type in John 3:16 and have it take you to John 3:16. Bibles are not only meant to be read, but to be used as a reference this way. Reference books themselves should definitely be indexed such that you can turn to any page in the book in an instance as well as search for things.

  2. Deni Tako | May 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm |

    Joel has a good point. The Bible is a great example. So are textbooks – they are reference books as well.
    Perhaps it’s not so much that there are 2 different audiences, as much as there are different types of books.

    Reference books certainly need the ability to annotate and bookmark effectively. Some other non-fiction books may benefit from this as well, along with business materials and publications.

    But, fiction readers, who are reading for pleasure rarely need to annotate their mystery novels.

    I’m not sure how much cross-over there is between people who are reading only for pleasure to using reference ebooks. I think there would be more cross over from people who use reference books who also read ebooks for pleasure.

    Maybe the 2 audiences are less about being technically savvy enough to use functions and more about the type of readers people are – readers for pleasure or readers for research and pleasure.

  3. You both have excellent points about the bible and reference books. And while the majority of readers who rely heavily on annotation are research oriented, many are just noting items for personal interest or for a book club, etc.

    I think part of the problem too is that true “notation” ebook devices are expensive (like the entourage edge, the possibly-existing plastic logic que, the higher end irex devices) which drives many users downmarket into the “regular” ebook readers. Plus there’s the issue of feature de-creep in app-based reading…

    But you are right, it is as much about the books as the audience.

  4. Deni Tako | May 11, 2010 at 3:02 pm |

    Honestly, I’ve been reading ebooks for about 8 years now, on WinMo devices using uBook until I got my iPhone and the app store. I started reading ebooks to solve the “Honey, your light is keeping me awake” problem, and have never looked back.

    In all that time, I have never made a note about any book I read. Because all the books I read are fiction and for pleasure. To be fair, I’m not in a book club and I don’t often have discussions about what I read with other people either, beyond the “look what my device of the moment can do” and that’s usually more about the device than what I am reading.

    I do look for readers that can deal with multiple formats, and prefer ones with a dictionary as well, but since I read a bunch of Sci-Fi, a dictionary is only going to help me so much with words whose definitions exist only in the author’s mind. But, it does come in handy on occasion.

    I have to admit, that I really hate e-ink as well. I know lots of people love it, and find it more comfortable than a backlit screen, I’m just not one of them. I tried it, and the refresh “blinky” part drove me crazy and to return the reader within a week. But, I am happy that with the prevalence of e-ink readers that more and more people are getting into ebooks. Regardless of the reader itself, the ever increasing popularity of ebooks only serves to benefit those of us who enjoy them.

    I’m pretty tech savvy overall, and what is important to ME in a reader is compatibility with multiple formats, an easy enough background that it’s comfortable for my eyes, and the ability to increase the font size. I’m not as worried about the actual font being used as scalability.

    I don’t know if the issue overall is that notation ebook readers are too expensive (honestly, it’s not a feature I’ve ever really looked for) versus the fact that what I believe the majority of the people who use them for is pleasure reading, which usually doesn’t require the ability to notate.

    And, I have no idea what “feature de-creep in app based reading” means at all – could you explain?

  5. sorry, when I said feature de-creep, I meant things like amazon slowly killing stanza, which was far more full featured than the kindle app..which is what kicked off the whole set of musings since people were annoyed at the lack of a stanza app for the ipad.

  6. The Two Audiences for eBooks | Gear Diary: It occurred to me after reading this editorial at Teleread that there a…

  7. Deni Tako | May 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm |

    If you jailbreak your iPad, you can use an app called FULLFORCE to have Stanza run in full iPad mode, and everything looks and acts like it was designed to run on the iPad in the first place, none of the 2X double pixel issues. If you haven’t tried it, you may want to – it’s awesome for pretty much any text driven apps to run in iPad mode, not 2X mode, and looks great. I use it for pretty much all text driven apps, like Facebook and mobile banking, BeeJiveIM, and a couple of others. It makes so much difference! So far, it’s not great for graphical programs like games, however. It won’t work with any games I’ve tried so far, but since it’s free, I’m happy to keep it on just for the text driven apps, especially Stanza. One of the other big benefits to it having apps run in iPad mode, is that you can use the iPad keyboard with them, not the iPhone version that winds up in the middle of the screen, and impossible to type on.

    So far, iBooks is fairly equal to Stanza in my opinion. However, what Stanza has that iBooks does not is the ability to change backgrounds. I always choose a cream or parchment background with black text. It’s the easiest for my eyes, since there isn’t that bright white to stare into. I’m hoping that iBooks will get an update that will allow that option sometime soon. iBooks wins though in ease of transfer to the iPad, since now all I have to do is drop books into iTunes and sync – that rocks, compared to having to open each individual book in the Stanza desktop, and then import each one individually.

    What will really keep me with iBooks though, is the “kindle-esque” sync between the iPad and iPhone when 4.0 rolls out for both devices. Right now, I don’t actually read too much on the iPad, but I will more when I can keep a book in sync between the 2 devices.

    I don’t use the Kindle app because I don’t have a Kindle, so there is no point to it for me. As I’ve said before, I’m just not an e-ink person, so it doesn’t really enter my line of thinking when comparing apps. But, I can understand what you mean now, thanks for the info.

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