As I’ve said elsewhere, this eBook format thing is crazy. Now that the industry has roughly settled on the EPUB format, however, it might be time to start thinking about other things. Like our readers.
I know that you, Dear Amazon, Apple and B&N, are positioning yourselves as the new gateway to those very readers. You’ve had some success. Enough success that we’re already learning about the next generation of “e-readers.” Our children. Some of them, according to a recent Bowker survey covered by Laura Hazard Owen, are using iPads and eReaders. That’s good news.
But it’s no time to declare victory; a closer look reveals that some daunting obstacles remain.
Market for 0-12 Year Olds
The eBook market for 0-12 year olds seems to have considerable upside. Kids in this demographic think eBooks are “fun and cool,” cost less and make them want to read more. Not only that, but parents are sharing their tablet and eReader devices with their children — and handing them down as they upgrade.
Caveat: Only 37 percent of children’s books are purchased new, while 34 percent are hand-me-downs. Almost ten percent are borrowed from the library.
Caveat: Parents want to see books identified by grade level. Right now, that’s hit and miss on your download sites. Mostly miss.
Market for 13-17 Year Olds
This demographic lags behind all others in eBook adoption. Only 8 percent prefer eBooks compared to 66 percent who prefer print. There’s lots of upside here. Well, sort of…
Caveat: “Teens like using social technology to discuss and share things with their friends, and e-books at this point are not a social technology.”
Caveat: Teens are increasingly on record that eBooks are too restrictive, with 14 percent saying so in 2011, compared to 6 percent in 2010. Those are not frighteningly negative numbers. Yet. But they’re trending in the wrong direction.
What’s to be done?
Dear Amazon, Apple and B&N
Please fix the eBook lending mess. I know it means working with traditional publishers. Big prizes will go to whoever fixes this first.
Add the ability to readily attach grade-level information to EPUB and MOBI files. This one should be obvious.
Add social networking functionality to your eBook reader apps. As I write this, Facebook has 845 million monthly active users. While the value of those users is still being assessed (we’ll know more post-IPO), that’s a big starting point for sharing. Go there. Get there. While you’re at it, think Google+, too.
Enable in-app book discussions, not just for teens, but book clubs too. I say this from the perspective of someone who’s recently been asked to speak to a book club about “Butcher, Baker,” 20 years past its initial publication. (Hey, those movies have a way of renewing interest in almost forgotten things.) I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s Ping, but it points to an opportunity outside the Facebook-Google+ realm.
Amazon has just released an updated version of its Kindle eBook creation toolset. Let it be said, it’s a grand accomplishment. KF8 adds over 150 new formatting capabilities, including drop caps, numbered lists, fixed layouts, nested tables, callouts, sidebars and Scalable Vector Graphics. And, as Amazon notes:
Kindle Fire is the first Kindle device to support KF8 – in the coming months KF8 will be rolled out to our latest generation Kindle e-ink devices as well as our free Kindle reading apps.
Amazon simultaneously released an updated version of its Kindle Previewer, the app that lets content creators preview their Kindle-compatible eBook files.
In this installment, I’ll focus on the updates to the Kindle Previewer. The KF8 review awaits more in-depth experience with the tool (it’s still command-line, but Amazon supports epub to mobi conversion through current and previous versions of the Previewer app).
KINDLE FIRE PREVIEWER (FIRST IMPRESSIONS)
Supports color. The Kindle Fire Previewer supports color. The Kindle Previewer does not; if your ePub targets multiple platforms, and color is part of the mix, you’re in a bit of a bind with the old Previewer. Kindle Fire Previewer fixes that.
Renders text more faithfully. The Kindle Previewer has inconsistent text rendering, making it hard to tell whether it’s your file or the Previewer that has the problem. Kindle Fire Previewer fixes that.
Converts epub to mobi and KF8. This is the whole point of the new toolset, so this is a no duh.
Previewer Window too long. The Kindle Fire Previewer app window is taller than its predecessor, because the Fire is, well, taller. There’s more on the page. On the Mac, though, that means that the bottom of the app window is obscured by the Dock.
App Window not resizable. This is a carry over from the older Kindle Previewer. But the default height of the old Previewer was less, because Kindle e-ink devices are smaller, so the obscuring the dock problem was not evident. Bottom line: you can’t fix this problem except by minimizing the Dock.
NOTE: All tests were conducted at a screen resolution of 1920 x 1200. We get it that the fixed size on the Previewer is a proxy for what the eBook will look like on various Kindles. But something got lost in translation. The Kindle Fire has a resolution of 1024 x 600. Come on; it should fit with room to spare.