Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 9 December 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls

I've been an advocate of the dedicated eReader device for some years, having owned and used a Kindle as my portal into the world of eBooks.  In fact, it was the Kindle that made me realise that the three novels I had written over several years could be made available for a much wider audience.  It introduced me to self publishing and has provided a means for myself and thousands of other frustrated writers to put our literary works 'out there' for the world to judge.

That original Kindle is now showing signs of wear and age - the half life of these kind of devices is probably fairly short and the version I have, with the lower third occupied by a keyboard and navigation buttons, is probably more likely to develop a mechanical failure of some sort due to the amount of moving parts, even if the buttons do glide over a membrane.

But I've been watching the rise and rise of tablet computers too, and have forecast that the dedicated eReader's day is strictly numbered, although judging by the number of model upgrades by Amazon and Nook, for example, it would appear that the manufacturers seem to think that there is life in the old dogs yet.  I disagree; while the dedicated eReaders have a few tricks up their collective sleeves including phenomenal battery life, the ability to be read in direct sunlight and increasingly a backlit screen to allow them to be read in bed without putting a main light on, the economics of dedicated eReaders just isn't stacking up.

I reckon in the last three years I've read over two hundred eBooks - probably a middling amount compared to some readers, perhaps more than others, however I do spend a lot of my free time writing books and the occasional blog entry as well as holding down a full time job, so I guess the total isn't too tardy.  It's certainly more than I read in the three years before I got my Kindle - the economics of buying paperbacks in quantity and the logistics of storing them (or recycling them to the local charity shop) mitigate against random speculative purchases.  Some of the books I've waded through in the last three years have been, shall I say, challenging but in the main I've read a lot of good books and learned a lot along the way.  And my bookshelf is holding its own these days, despite the extra books that have passed through my hands.

Critically the majority of those eBooks I've read have been read on an Android tablet - the self destructing Nexus 7 with a screen that costs more than the device new - and on my Microsoft RT.  The Kindle does come out of its drawer now and then, but increasingly it doesn't.

So eBooks, for me, aren't going away but the way I read them has changed.  The way I look at it, if I'm electing freely to use my tablet computer to read eBooks when I've got a perfectly suitable dedicated eReader, albeit one with a tendency to have sticky moments on the keypad these days, why would someone entering the market choose one over a multi-purpose tablet?  Arguably three years ago the main option was an iPad or a Kindle, with a price differential of three to one; today you can pick up a reasonable seven inch tablet capable of surfing the web, dealing with your emails, playing stupid games and carrying your holiday snaps around on, plus usable as your eReader in all conditions except direct sunlight for 80% of the cost of a dedicated eReader.

Right now, those who are looking to fill Christmas stockings up with mid priced presents might be weighing up the pros and cons of dedicated eReaders and low end tablets and I think most rational people will choose the tablet route.  The tablet they choose, especially if for someone else, may not be the best model on the market but will almost certainly be an acceptable device, but will provide all the benefits of a dedicated eReader with the added bonuses of a tablet, generally for less.

As in Ernest Hemingway's classic, For Whom the Bell Tolls, the end credits for dedicated eReaders is being played out with the hero facing certain death, pinned down by his horse as the enemy approach.  The manufacturers of the dedicated devices must know that this is the last year they can hope to sell significant numbers of dedicated eReaders, especially at the price points they are marketed at, but I suspect that in the final analysis there will be a lot of Nooks and Kindles left on the shelves after Christmas Day.  This year will be the watershed and I expect that most suppliers will want to dispose of this technology to get it off their inventory, so expect some interesting bargains in the sales.  If they do, and the price is right, then I'll be queuing up to buy a low cost dedicated eReader for the opportunity to replace my fading one for those infrequent occasions when they really do differentiate themselves from the tablets.

But if they don't discount them I won't lose any sleep.  Dedicated eReaders are good, but it's not like they make the Earth move.

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