Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Are Ebook Readers the New Web Browsers?

If ebooks are the unstoppable wave of the future, as some people believe they are -- my doubts on the subject are well documented, so I won't go through them again -- then we're still very, very early in the adoption curve for ebook readers.

In fact, we're where the web was in about 1995-96, and thus Kindle is Netscape Navigator, with a market share estimated somewhere in the 75-90% range. It's hugely dominant in a small but quickly expanding market, crowing about its growth (without releasing solid numbers) and blessed with a pack of energetic, enthusiastic fans.

Now, Amazon has greater resources than Netscape did -- and the competition for e-books is wider than the mid-90s thumping bigfoot of Microsoft and IE -- but it's still coasting strongly on the first mover advantage. And if we all learned anything in the first great e-boom, the first move advantage doesn't last very long, and plenty of first movers end up abandoned when something better comes along.

The other caveat is that it was (and still is) much easier to switch web browsers -- an easily installed piece of software -- than it is to switch from one dedicated piece of hardware to another. But the biggest area of growth for e-reading is expected to be on non-dedicated devices -- the iPad, and the growing legion of smartphones led by the iPhone and Blackberry -- and there, an e-reading platform is exactly like a web browser, and many readers already have several (Kindle, Stanza, B&N, etc.) installed on their devices.

So perhaps an e-book reader is the new web browser, and Kindle -- so dominant and seemingly unassailable today -- may need to worry that it will go the way of Netscape Navigator: from market leader to scrappy second-place to afterthought to dead, in barely a decade.


Ray said...

I suppose Amazon are counting on locking in a publisher/reader combination, by getting a big enough first mover advantage.
On the reader side, once you have bought however many Kindle format e-books, you are going to make sure that any reader you buy is going to support Kindle format, even if its not a Kindle.
On the publisher side, if there is a large group of readers that are committed to the Kindle format, then that is the format you convert to first.
So Amazon don't rule the hardware sales, but their proprietary format is locked in, and that probably has some advantages for a retailer.

Michael L. Wentz said...

I totally agree that it's the non-dedicated platforms that will open the ebook market. The Kindle is okay, but as a piece of tech it's not really that great.

I think the iPad is the device to watch. It's between a netbook and a smartphone, and even if it doesn't dominate the ebook market, it's impact will at least let us see the direction that the consumer is headed.

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