Kobo Chief Executive Officer Michael Serbinis was recently interviewed (20 September 2010) by Peter Nowak of CBC News about how e-books could alter the publishing landscape. It’s a question which is frequently posed to publishers by the media and while Mr Serbinis seemed to echo some often-cited answers, he also made an interesting statement in which he distinguished single-use e-readers from the looming giant, the iPad.
According to Serbinis, many customers who are reading e-books would prefer to have a dedicated reading experience in which they can focus on the experience of reading as a recreational activity, to the exclusion of other distractions. Accordingly, it is likely that such customers would be more inclined to select a single-use e-ink reader – such as a Kobo or Kindle – instead of a multi-purpose device such as iPad, as its sole purpose is for the activity of reading only.
Serbinis’ statement appears to be directed to that section of the market which views reading in traditional terms; that is, a recreational act in which the reader follows the narration of a book in a linear trajectory. While a large section of the burgeoning e-book market would find this kind of reading appealing, there are others who may find that the convergence of internet, e-reader device and e-book presents an exciting range of permutations for the future of narratives. For example, the intersection of an e-book, read on a device that offers net connectivity would allow authors to experiment with the way narratives are told. Hyperlinks, rather than standard narrative linearity, could dictate the way that a book is read, understood and enjoyed. The kind of reading practices that this kind of narrative would engender would appeal to some readers and repel others – and that is exactly the point.
While Serbinis’ comment uses a significant factor (the dedicated experience of reading) to distinguish the kind of motivations that prompt readers to prefer one device over another, it neglects other readers who view the rapid popularity of e-books as an opportunity to experience innovative ways of reading through new technologies. Furthermore, the use of technological benchmarks such as the hyperlinks and even embedded music and video does not necessarily have to be viewed as an unwanted imposition, nor would it necessarily prevent reading from being a dedicated experience.
Some other statements made in the interview about the current state of the e-book market are below.
- When asked if an e-reader is analogous to a video game console in the sense that the manufacturer can “afford to take a loss on the hardware [since] it’s the software that makes the money”, Serbinis indicated that this would be possible, where the manufacturer has a “comprehensible solution of content”, in particular apps and a device. If both of these elements are present, manufacturers ought to be able to subsidise, even though Serbinis notes that no manufacturer is significantly pursing this business strategy at the moment.
- e-Books have grown at such an astonishing (and unexpected) rate because of the availability of diverse and expansive content. To compliment this, there are also a great range of devices which enable you to access this content.
- Interestingly, Serbinis remarks that e-reader screens are like paper and that the similarity of content on e-readers to the conventional book page is a persuasive factor prompting customers to feel ready to receive content via e-readers.
- While the digital tools which are currently available make it easier to self-publish, it is still very difficult to actually market and sell the book.
- In terms of managing competition for e-books, ensuring that consumers have choice is very important. Choice encompasses, not just a large selection of e-books, but also a choice of devices which are compatible with e-books, such as those that may be bought from the kobo bookstore.