IMHO: This Year’s E-Reader Could be Next Year’s Betamax

This year’s hot holiday present is supposedly an e-reader.Forrester predicted that 900,000 of the devices will be sold in November and December.  Preoders for the Barnes & Noble Nook so exceeded expectations that anyone who orders one now will receive a certificate in lieu of a device, which will ship in the beginning of January.  Thursday’s Times electronics column was devoted to a side-by-side comparison of the leading e-readers. And magazines are, according to MediaWeek, rushing to ready their product for an online newsstand. Companies are making magazine content readable on iPhones and e-readers.  The hype is definitely on.  And yet, most people are perfectly happy to read material on their PCs (or even a netbook, which costs about the same as an e-reader)  via Project Gutenberg, or Scribd or, dare we say it, Google Books. The mass appeal of a device dedicated to one thing is questionable.  Then, too, there is the fact that some, notably the Kindle, restricts your reading to what you can order from their bookstore.  And most of these readers have some kind of DRM restrictions as well.  Still, if you travel a lot, and read a lot, an e-reader can seem like a very handy tool.  Or it will, until Apple’s purported tablet computer comes out.  Depending on the price point, Steve Jobs may end up taking over yet another market. And if he does, the burgeoning e-reader market may dwindle to a trickle. Already Condé Nast is preparing its stable of magazines for the as-yet non-existent device. On Wednesday, Time showed off its Sports Illustrated tablet product to AllThingsD .  Peter Kafka got a chance to play around with it, and it looks extremely cool. You can see the video here.

 This new platform could work particularly well for magazines, which have not, historically, done well in a digital format.  In the long run, you and other consumers will decide which they prefer, a black and white, static electronic version of a book, or a multi-function device  that, among its other features, can extend the reading experience for magazines, into something that really IS an experience, and PS, you can also read books on it.

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