iPhone eBooks: future of reading

January 17, 2009

iPhone or IPod Touch eBooks: future of readingThe iPhone and the iPod Touch (left out of the heading for space reasons) are the ideal machines for reading E books. Much better in my experience than any dedicated reader I have tested. This is going to have to be a personal account for there is no other way to write it. My apologies.

The Sony reader, which was possibly the first, never took off simply because it was slow in turning pages, was not easy to load books onto and was quite expensive. It still exists at $300, but there are no long lines around the block to buy it. Although I fly more than most people I have never seen one being used in the air. Or, indeed, anywhere else except in sales demonstrations.

The same applies to the Amazon Kindle. There is an amazing PR campaign to suggest that the Kindle has sold in uncountable numbers. Uncountable because Amazon has never given an accurate report on how many it has sold.

Aaron Pressman in BusinessWeek on November 19 wrote: ‘Kindle will be the iPod of books — you read it here first.’ And, as it happens, last.

In January last year the Amazon Kindle forum had the amazing message: ‘I would guess that the numbers are smaller than one might expect.’

Eric Schonfel on August 1 on TechCrunch said the figure was 240,000. And Scott Devitt, an analyst (not a job description currently viewed with great favor) at Stifel, Nicolaus predicted that Amazon is on track to sell 500,000 to 750,000 more Kindles over the next year.

If Kindle has sold half a million I would be astounded. Gobsmacked. Quite seriously amazed.

In competition the iPhone and the iPod Touch have together sold millions. Reading books inflight the Apple machine is close to ideal. To start off with it is one less thing to buy, one less to carry.
Before we start I have to admit that one of my iPod Touch machines has gone through JailBreak and I can load on it any damn thing I want.

This is not to say that I advocate JailBreak to readers. It is an individual choice and I am told there are dangers although I have never experienced them.

There are approximately one million books in text form on the Internet.

First of all there is Project Gutenberg which has 27,000 books already in text and proofread. At the moment I am reading Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Typically on my iPod Touch I have four or five books awaiting my pleasure.

You can, of course, go the official way and download eReader.

It is free and reads:

EReader allows you to read premium eBook content right on your iPhone from top book authors. Over 20,00 e-books available at top eBook Retailers like eReader.com and Fictionwise.com.

The problem is the price for the books is pretty damn nearly the same for standard paperbacks and that is not quite what I had in mind. Luckily I am not a fan of books with titles like SuperHealth: 6 Simple Steps, 6 Easy Weeks, 1 Longer, Healthier Life so I stay well away.

The only book I am happy, nay delighted to pay for is David Pogue’s iPhone: The Missing Manual, Second Edition iPhone App. He is the computer editor of the New York Times and the book only costs $4.99.

You can see a neat demonstration an iPhone working as a book on You Tube.

And there is another demonstration on downloading another stack of books in .pdf on You Tube.

True, there are some minor obstacles put in the way of you using either your iPhone or iPod Touch as a reading machine. But the obstacles are small and the rewards great. Never forget that a good book is the lifeblood of the master spirit.

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11 Responses to “iPhone eBooks: future of reading”

  1. Newton:

    Over a decade ago Apple STOPPED making a range of machines that were very very similar in many ways to the iphone/iPod touch – indeed it was at one stage used as an OS for a phone too. Back then, it had ebook reading built in, and many of the ebooks are still available online today. There was also a nice third party book reader available too. This all preceded the Sony reader by over a decade…


    If Apple had kept modernising this device, what would it have looked like today? Many of it’s main third party software companies have now rewritten their applications for the iPhone.

  2. Brian:

    Stanza for iPhone is a great app. It’s free, available on the app store. It also has a desktop application that you can use for your Windows PC or Mac. Not only does it have a lot of sources for free and to-purchase books (including Project Gutenberg), but you can share out popular formats from your desktop including .PDF, .LIT, .DOC, and many others. You can read it landscape or portrait, and it has the popular cover flow view that the iPod feature on the iPod Touch/iPod made famous (Leopard).

    I’m really enjoying it so far, able to read my old MS Reader format books on my iPhone (.LIT). I also read my University of Phoenix textbooks that are all in .PDF format using Stanza on iPhone, so that I don’t have to be tied down for that part of my studies.


  3. Steve P.:

    Hi, I’m one of the founders of Fictionwise which owns the eReader product.

    Slight correction, eReader has nearly 60,000 contemporary titles available now on iphone and that includes most of the NY Times best sellers and popular titles from all the major publishing houses. (I think you must have quoted from an old page or something.) Every book on the site is discounted in some way, often heavily. There is a 15% rewards program on every purchase plus many additional specials and discounts. The list prices of books are set by publishers, by the way. We have voiced our opinion that ebooks should have a list price under that of print books.

    We’ve already sold millions of dollars of ebooks onto iphone with about a million downloads of our application.

    There’s no question in my mind more people are reading ebooks on iphone than Kindle already, and Kindle had nearly a year head start.

    -Steve P.

  4. Gareth Powell:

    You are talking to the converted. I loved the Newton. Steve Jobs did not. In Australia there was a syndicate to buy the Newton and it had among its members David Strong who had been the manager of Apple Australia. As I understand it Steve Jobs stopped this offer, and probably several others, dead in their tracks.
    One of the objections to the Newton was that you could not carry it easily in your pocket. I thought this was not a major problem but Apple thought otherwise. In fairness there was a lot of hype at the launch with the handwriting recognition — which hardly worked — being made much of. But I thought it a stunning machine. Still do.

  5. Gareth Powell:

    Will download it immediately and report back. Sounds great.

  6. Gareth Powell:

    Sorry I underestimate the number. 60,000 is a solid number. Where you and I are not in agreement is in the discounting. I have been a book publisher all my life. I still am. And I know the figures very well. Take out the printing, binding, distribution costs plus the costs of returns and the discounts you quote are not, in my opinion, enough. I simply do not feel comfortable with a book being sold in this way for more than US$5. OK, it means the author’s percentage will have to be adjusted. But in a sense I see this sort of pricing as being the last vestiges of the hardback publishers trying to hang on to a dying business. Not dying in the number of titles produced. But dying in the number of copies sold.
    I would like all books to be digitalized. And I would like them all at $5 and under. And I think it would change the literacy of the world.

  7. Richard F Jones:

    Nobody EVER mentions the “Rocket E-book”. I had one almost TEN (10) years ago and it was GREAT. A bit bulky perhaps, about the size of a thick trade paper-back but it was bright and easy to read and fit one’s hand like a glove.

    Alas, not much content, it died ahead of it’s time. Sigh…

  8. Richard F Jones:

    P.S. It seems to me that e-books are MADLY overpriced. They should reflect the cost of a book MINUS paper, ink, printing, storage, transportation, retail real estate, and everything else I can’t remememeber.

    They should be priced to renumerate authors and those publishing people who are still relevant (editors & promotions?). i.e. a couple bucks per book.

  9. Steve P.:


    Actually, read my response carefully, we’re not in disagreement on the discounting. I said right there in my reply that we’ve been telling publishers for years that ebooks should be priced under print books. The publishers are setting the list price and our payments to them are a fixed percentage of list price, that puts a floor on how much we can discount and still cover our overhead.

    But most people vastly over-estimate how much cost there is in printing and transporting physical books, and vastly underestimate the customer support costs of ebooks which have no equivalent in the print book world. Nobody buys a print book then opens a support ticket asking how to open it, but that happens on a daily basis with ebooks. The net savings in costs on ebooks is not anywhere near as high as some on this thread are suggesting.

    We believe ebooks should be priced somewhat under the equivalent paperback price. That’s where it works out to be. We agree that hardcover prices should not be set in the ebook world. Currently most publishers do price ebooks at or near hardcover levels when the book is not yet released as paperback. I guess the theory being they don’t want to lose those profitable hardcover sales.

    Take care,
    Steve P.

  10. Gareth Powell:

    Yes, you did, and I apologize for the slight misunderstanding.
    But to nail down some figures. When I started as a publisher — when there were wolves in Wales — some books were sold to the retailer at 25% off, some at 35% and that was it.
    We would also forecast our sales pretty well. In the UK a bog standard paperback sold 28,000 copies from a 30,000 print run.
    The author got 7.5% or, if he was big time, 10%. Some never earned out of their advances. I paid Harold Robbins 50,000 quid advance which will do as an example.
    Now it is very different. Booksellers expect 50% — in some cases more — and, of course, it is on sale or return.
    Amazon takes 55%.
    Logistics can be a killer. OK where post is subsidized. Not OK in Australia where it is not.
    So printed book publishers are on slim pickings.
    Bung the same book up as an ebook and you have a saving of something like 60% and we have not even thought of cost of production.
    There is NO suggestions in what I write that publishers are evil grasping sods drinking champagne from golden slippers. It was never an easy way to make a quid.
    But change it to an ebook and a lot of your costs strip away. Yes, in the early days you will have to give technical support but that, too, will pass.
    The author’s agents will demand much more than 10%. Possibly 20%. Which means you can put a book out at $5 and still make a profit. Stand on me.

  11. Ben:

    “The same applies to the Amazon Kindle. There is an amazing PR campaign to suggest that the Kindle has sold in uncountable numbers. Uncountable because Amazon has never given an accurate report on how many it has sold.”

    Seems like everyone in NYC has one. When I’m on a subway car during rush hour, I usually see at least 3 around me. I personally would rather have a real book in my hands, but unless those people are getting them for free- the Kindle is selling.

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