It is Mobiles not the Kindle that will Define the Future of Books

November 24, 2009

in general

Mobile Social is beginning to change the world of books. It’s also going to make reading even more accessible to the world’s poor.

When Anne Ruan goes to work in the morning, the Beijing subway is so crowded she can barely find a spot to stand. But the real-estate agent ignores the jostling of the other commuters and focuses on her book. Her e-book, that is…. Ms Ruan is one of about 5m Chinese who have taken up reading electronic books on mobile devices… China’s e-reader future

Yesterday I bought two more books via my iPhone-Kindle. Books and reading on the iPhone are also fueling the app store according to one set of data. In October 20% of the apps launched for iPhone were books. Most of these are “crap” with works no longer under copyright. Many of the e-readers also aren’t the best experience. Yet the key point is… developers are recognizing that users are changing their behavior. They don’t only phone and text or play games, or get lost in their lifestreams. They are increasingly reading and consuming all types of content. I know that isn’t the normal person and yet data out of China shows the promise and opportunity.

Two observations:
1. The mobile social behavior (tweeting, emailing etc) is already redefining e-reader applications and introducing a “social” context to book reading.

  • Only a few intense iPhone users will really be able to define this one. I have approx close to 30 “read” apps on my iphone currently. Of which 10 are keepers and probably 6 consume an hour a day! Yes I read a lot and reading that I did once on my PC is now done on my iPhone. These are both newspapers (skew that way) and kindle but can also include newsreader, recipes, etc.
  • Not all of these programs are created equal. However, increasingly the article reading that I can also share or push via Twitter (wish it was Delicious!) makes me more willing to talk about what I’m reading. That is going to be hugely important. S read x articles of which this is the one he shared!
  • I don’t like the advertising that is starting to creep in. A year ago the books / newspaper thing wasn’t really started. iPhone Kindle is approx six months old.

2. The developing world clamoring for education and is going to rewrite book distribution with mobile e-readers. Yes literacy may hold people back. Yet in China (story above) China Telecom is already beginning to see the opportunity and some issues too with access to content. I think we can be certain content will come and the lowest cost solutions will mimic music. Get your memory card loaded up with books. See the links to China Telecom below. “Wang Jianzhou, executive and chairman of China Mobile, called e-reading a “new culture”…”

According to the e-book development report, 95 per cent of Chinese who read electronically download pirated literature and 75 per cent of the country’s e-reading population are under the age of 31. It is also dominated by people with relatively low levels of education, and their main purpose is entertainment, the report found, indicating that these are not traditional book buyers switching to a new medium, which has driven uptake of e-readers in the US, for example.China’s e-reader future

Note in China these are new book readers! This is encouraging for the broader third world. A half decent screen on your mobile and one can be reading. Many China Phones already have relatively larger screens and I expect we will soon be seeing more adapted for e-readers.

The main content provider so far is Shanda Literature, a unit of Shanda Interactive, an internet portal that is dominated by online games. It offers user-generated literature – from mobile phone novels to magazines – mostly for free. China Mobile has teamed up with Shanda, helping the telecom company to tackle content shortfalls. China’s e-reader future

What’s new is “users” haven’t yet tweaked to the idea that “free books” can be put on a mobile and then consumed in a usable way. That’s effectively still true and there’s likely to be issues over content. And while youth might prefer to be face in front of the TV there remains plenty of opportunity for them to read… if only they had access. No-one will buy a mobile just to read. However when reading becomes an opportunity as part of the phone like music and even video then the device becomes something more than just supporting calls and basic entertainment it also becomes a broader device for bettering one’s self.

Alex is designed to look like an e-reader where as the main selling point for me is the fact it is a phone first that also doubles as an e-reader…. The standout feature of Alex is the use of content across both screens…  …eventually manage to cram the functionality of an e-reader into the same form factor as a mobile phone. Alex

We also see the basis for this in this direction in the WSJ today. Many are being introduced to reading and securing updates on their mobiles. These services will insert the need to learn and know more into the heads of users. Notifications and reminders which for us may be yet another nuisance may well be prized by someone that thinks that’s a “smart tip”.

Charges for the services vary: Some are free for now, others cost more than the price of a regular call. Dial-up radio, for example, costs about one rupee, or 2 U.S. cents, a minute. Reliance customers can get cricket reports via text messages three times a day on the day of the match for 5 rupees per day, or take a service for 49 rupees a month to listen to live commentary during matches.

We need some innovation with Mobile Carriers to further stimulate and spread “learning” and reading. Great programs are being rolled out (I linked to some English one’s last week via BBC and Nokia). Yet we need the Librarians on this. They probably are just another place for me to go and look (example The Shifted Librarian).

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