With the announcement of the $99 Ocean Reader Copia Tablet we are entering familiar territory. As you probably remember, netbooks went through the same race to the bottom as ebooks and this Ocean Reader is the first of the lot to hit our shores with any fanfare.
While I’m sure a mention in the WSJ is fairly important, the Copia and the Alex and the Farfenugen or whatever is next to ride down the ereader/tablet pike will enter a strange market. There are currently two – if not three – popular platforms. I’d say the Kindle is far and away the most robust followed by the Sony ereaders beloved by PDF downloaders and trailed by the Nook whose viability I’m bearish on. While a multi-purpose device like the Streak can exist in this ecosystem, any ereader that advertises itself as primarily an ereader will be sunk.
Here’s how it will shake out: small companies will started getting catalogs from China describing the possible types of LCD and eink readers available for export. These companies will, in hopes of grabbing some holiday bucks, advertise their products at lower and lower prices. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a $25 ereader by November. These ereaders will be woefully useless and Kindle sales will rise after snookered readers return these junk devices. We’ll see a trickle of no name ereaders next year and then it will stop, the cheap ereader supplanted by the fuller featured Windows 7, iOS, or Android Tablet while Amazon will still make money selling Kindles to the more literary-minded. Nooks? Well, we’ll see.
I don’t think ereaders can survive the race to the bottom. They serve a far too specific purpose to last very long and, unlike netbooks, there are no virulent pro-junk ereader owners out there. At best they’re indifferent and at worst they’re disappointed by the ebook selections available to them.
Make no mistake: I predict the death of the independent bookstore within the next half decade and the death of the big chains in ten years. I also predict a huge, MPAA-like scare on behalf of the publishing world once they figure out that all these ereaders are encouraging book piracy. However, once students get used to reading long-form content on a screen and carry that habit into their casual reading, there will be no reason to drag around a hardback of Stephen King. Heck, the pessimist in me says we won’t even see long form text in about twenty years, but I won’t go as far as announce the death of the book.
Anyway, don’t buy the Ocean Reader for your mom this holiday. It will just frustrate her. Buy a Kindle. You’ll be happier.