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!