Things are definitely heating up in the field of e-books. In the run-up to the expected launch of the Kindle 2 on February 9th, someone at Amazon has told the New York Times that the company is working on making Kindle e-books available on mobile phones. I’m guessing that the iPhone is at the top of the list.
Given the threat that the iPhone poses to the Kindle, this would make sense. Indeed, it could even be a smart form of marketing for the Kindle. A Kindle app for the iPhone might lack some of the special features available on Amazon’s own dedicated device, but it would let potential Kindle buyers try the whole e-book thing out, and then take their Kindle libraries with them when they buy a Kindle device. And if making its own hardware doesn’t work out, Amazon can always switch and make Kindle a service brand. Perhaps we’ll get some more details on Monday.
Google is also pitching in, with the unveiling of a version of its Google Book Search site specifically tuned for mobile phones. The company has used OCR software to extract the text from the scanned-in book pages displayed on the usual Google Book Search site, which isn’t always perfect but makes for much quicker downloads on devices such as the iPhone or Android-based handsets.
My family, meanwhile, has become obsessed with Stanza on the iPhone, as an alternative to carrying around bulky books. My wife likes to read big hardback novels, and my daughter is reading the “Eragon” books, which are also pretty huge. They have both happily switched to reading on the iPhone/iPod touch. My daughter particularly likes the fact that she doesn’t need a reading light at night, because the screen is backlit. I’ve also been using the iPhone as an e-book reader, and it’s excellent — the small screen is not a problem at all. It’s great that you don’t need a bookmark. The only thing I miss about “real” books is that you can’t tell how far through a book you are. Anyway, Stanza v Google v Kindle v (possibly) Apple itself… let battle commence!
And that’s just for e-books. There also seems to be growing interest in using e-book readers to deliver newspapers to paying subscribers, something that is already happening on the Kindle. Bill Keller mentioned this in an interview last week. It’s an obvious move: have the newspaper delivered in a lump to the device, rather than calling up pages one at a time via a web browser. Then it will work on a train, in the plane and so on. And if you’re just sitting at the breakfast table, it will be nice and fast, since the pages will all be pre-cached. Amazon, Apple or whoever collects the subscription revenues; there will be very high margins for newspapers, because there are no printing and distribution fees; and the convenience of mobile access might be something people will be prepared to pay for, even though they seem to be reluctant to pay for newspapers on the web. Might this whole e-book-reader thing be a new model for newspapers, like iTunes was for the record industry?