There is e-book news from several fronts this week. First, the Texas legislature has passed a bill that allows school districts to use their textbook money for e-readers. Second, news leaks tell that Amazon will unveil a new, larger size Kindle for reading newspapers and textbooks. The unveiling is set for tomorrow (as I write this) or today (as you read this.).
The textbook news out of Texas should cheer all e-book lovers. Texas is the second largest purchaser of textbooks. Now, school kids in Texas may get their books electronically. The savings will be felt by the districts who won't have to store textbooks, who will be able to replace them easier and cheaper when they wear out or become outdated. Children will feel the weight of all those books removed from their bookbags. I have always believed the spear point of the e-book revolution is in textbooks. The generation that goes to school on e-books will be the e-book market of the future.
The Kindle news is also exciting in this regard. The large format of the new Kindle is intended for textbooks, which are printed in a larger format than trade books. The larger screen will allow for presentation of graphs and other illustrations. It's also rumored to have the ability to make annotations to the text—to write in the margins, in other words. The large format will make reading newspapers easier, too.
Is this the breakthrough e-book authors have been waiting for? Perhaps. It's certainly a significant step. However, I believe the biggest breakthroughs are yet to come and they are not in technology or legislation, but in marketing. The breakthrough will be in the selling of e-books, or more specifically, getting the book in front of a potential buyer's face.
The genius of the Kindle, in my opinion, is not in the electronic ink or other razzle-dazzle, nor in the ability to carry your entire library in your hand. No the genius of the Kindle is that you carry an entire bookstore in your hand. With a Kindle, you can buy a book whenever the mood strikes. Say you've just finished a Michael Connelly. You can immediately purchase the next one and within minutes plunge ahead into the series. No having to head to a bookstore, or start up your computer. A flip of the switch and you're connected. Another book purchased. Genius.
The shortcoming of the Kindle is that it connects to the Amazon store, which is not an inviting store. I like bookstores and drugstore racks and airport displays and newsstands as a means of selling books. A bookstore with shelf after shelf and tables piled with books and end displays with the covers facing out is a pleasure palace, full of temptations. The Amazon store, on the other hand, is like a bookstore with sheets over the shelves and tables. You can see what's inside only if you peek behind the sheets. Even then, you only see a small part of the stock. That's what the Amazon search engine feels like to me.
You sell a book by putting the cover in the reader's face. That's what a bookstore does. That's what a book signing does. Until publishers, booksellers and writers can figure out how to put the book cover in front of a reader's face, instead of at the end of a search function, we won't have a breakthrough in e-books.
What do you think?