State of the eBook: The Winter Freeze

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State of the eBook: The Winter Freeze(if you’d like to vote, head to Gatekeeper’s Post now!)

Welcome to another State of the eBook! Hopefully, you’ve had some good books to keep you warm this winter (and not in the book-burning way). Despite the quiet hardware cycle, we’ve had some big developments behind the scenes. What started as a sleepy winter may lead into a fairly explosive spring! Why is that? Read on to find out!

Android:

This is a bit of a mixed bag right now. On the upside, it’s looking like the Xoom will be hitting stores by the end of February, not to mention all the other exciting tablets coming out this spring. Android has quickly become equal to iOS for ebook reading, with Android, NOOK, Sony Reader, Kobo, Aldiko, and several other ebook programs all available.

On the downside, B&N is rumored to be out of NOOKcolors. There are all sorts of conflicting rumors, from inventory issues to B&N’s desire to shut down rooting/nooting. So if you’re in the market for a NOOKcolor, you’ll need to either hold tight or call around to see if your local store has some stashed away!

iOS:

The big news this week has been Apple’s rejection of the Sony Reader app. Mike covered it in detail, and I weighed in with my thoughts on how Apple’s newfound love of their SDK rule might impact the ebook world. But since then, Teleread has reported Apple has set a deadline of March 31 for compliance with their new/old rule that in-app purchasing (aka Apple’s 30% vig) must be offered. It’s still unclear if B&N, Amazon, and Kobo are going to be held accountable to this rule or not, but be prepared for a bumpy ride along the way!

In the more positive news, Kobo has updated their iPhone app with Reading Life, a social layer that they recently debuted for their iPad application. Sharing favorite passages and being able to see what others have highlighted or selected has become a cornerstone of several ebook applications, from Kobo to Amazon to B&N, and it brings a whole new dimension to reading!

Agency pricing and general eBook news:

Around one year ago was when the “agency model” first entered the ebook vernacular. Since then, even though it started as a rocky and contentious policy, prices and sales seem to have settled down and the world didn’t collapse in on itself. In fact, according to Teleread former frenemies, Amazon and MacMillan have kissed and made up enough to jointly pay royalties for sales lost during last year’s big fight (Amazon pulled MacMillan titles in protest of the agency proposal.) In addition, MacMillan has effectively “bonused” several authors by retroactively paying them higher royalty rates than the early days of the agency model originally offered.

Now, that’s very generous, and I can’t help but think it’s a bit of a defensive maneuver. Making authors happy, partnering with Amazon to pay royalties, all this is far more conciliatory than things were last year at this time. Then again, last year at this time, Apple was riding in on their white horse like iBooks and the iPad were going to save the day. Instead, publishers have seen more and more authors defect to self-publishing, Amazon and B&N have continued to dominate the ebook world, and Apple’s iBooks has barely eked out a presence. So now we’re a few months away from Apple possibly forcing a 30% toll on ebook applications, and everyone from publishers to authors to retailers are on the same side AGAINST that plan. No wonder we’re seeing bridges being un-burned!

We’ll cover Borders in a moment, but Businessweek uses their potential collapse as a jumping-off point to an interesting question. What happens to your ebooks if a store goes under? Is the publisher responsible to make you whole? Is the author if the book is self-published? Or is it a risk you take when you buy an electronic file? Currently, it’s a risk that falls on the consumer, but as ebooks become more and more popular it becomes an issue that we may see on a larger scale (either with Borders going under or in some other fashion). I don’t have any answers, but it’s an excellent point and certainly better to open that discussion and address the options before a large swath of book buyers end up with unreadable books!

Finally, don’t forget to check out the Gatekeeper’s Post. Currently, they are running a poll along the side column asking “When Will eBooks Be the Majority of Book Sales?” So far with 56 votes, 5 years is winning, but head over and vote now!

Borders Deathwatch 2011:

At this point, it’s just a matter of time. News reports¬†are indicating Borders is likely to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy, meaning they’ll be able to reorganize and discharge their debts in court, then (hopefully) re-emerge as a stronger entity. If that should fail, Borders will go into Chapter 7 liquidation, but the first step is to reorganize and regroup. I sincerely hope if bankruptcy is the answer that they can come back, but things are pretty grim right now.

Looking ahead:

I don’t think we’ll have to wait until March 31st to find out what’s next in the Apple versus ebooks saga, and while the hardware has been quiet, we’re due for a NOOK 3G mark 2 at the very least. So while hardware was quiet (for now) I’m sure it will get more exciting as we head for Spring. Beyond the usual spate of news, there’s always something new and unexpected happening, so be sure to follow Gear Diary and State of the eBook for all the latest and greatest!

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About the Author

Zek
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?