Publishing Technology: Would foldable Kindles increase ebook sales?

Source article: Slate’s “It’s Almost Time to Roll Up Your E-Reader and Put It In Your Pocket.

If you could fold an eReader into your pocket, would you be more likely to buy one? And if so, how would that change when and how you read?

Here’s a short summary of the article: Nokia and its technology partner showed two designs for LCD screens that could be folded in halves and thirds. I’ll let you read the original article for the technological details and pictures (I’d post them here but I don’t want to anger the copyright gods), but supposedly you can fold them “about 100,000 times before they wear out.”

Takeaways and Implications:

1. Unless I’m missing something, I’m not sure why a patent presumably owned by Nokia would lead to foldable Kindles, as the article implies. Maybe Amazon will buy the patent for their reader from Nokia, or is already researching their own alternative, but it could also be that Nokia would release a competitive eReader device using this technology as a selling point. The problem is, Amazon dominates the ebook market so completely that it’s a risky proposition to try to break into the market. Publishers will never give a new distributor the same unbalanced deal that Amazon is demanding right now from Hachette and others, and so they would never be able to compete against Amazon’s loss-leader pricing.

2. Foldable eReaders wouldn’t just be competing against Kindles; they’d also compete against smartphones. You’re selling the idea with these hypothetical products that you want to carry a book in your pocket and whip it out to read on the train or in the bathroom. But you’ll have to convince consumers that they want to read more than play Flappy Bird, listen to music, text, etc. Will these eReaders simply have ebooks, or will they have other capabilities like Kindle Fires? Will they be comfortable to hold, or easy to break or lose?

3. Oyster, the “Netflix for books” program that allows you to read unlimited books for a monthly fee, started out solely on mobile platforms. It focused on changing the reading experience by emphasizing the “% read” and “time left to finish” aspects of the book. This type of eReader would probably want to emphasize a similar experience if it hopes to capture the mobile market, by translating the book into the modern mindset. A lot of book lovers don’t love this type of reminder and avoid ebooks for this reason, but perhaps this type of interface will reach a different audience.

4. Technology companies love planned obsolescence as a means of getting us to buy their newest products every 2 or 3 years. The fact that foldable eReaders stop working by design after a certain point means that the company cannot be blamed for the eventual failure of the device, but it might convince consumers to not buy it in the first place.

I think this technology is fascinating and could contribute to an enjoyable reading experience, but there are still plenty of questions to ask about how it would be incorporated into the current ebook market. Let me know in the comments if you think this is a great or terrible idea, or if you think I missed something.

Thanks for reading!

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1 Comment

  1. First!

    I don’t know how I feel about this. I don’t think I’m convinced that this technology is what the ereading world has been waiting for?

    Re: point 2, ereaders are already competing against smartphones. The foldable technology could very well make them more competitive. But only if consumers feel that size is a big enough problem with current ereaders to merit buying a new one, or propel them to buy one for the first time. I just don’t think many people right now are like, “I would love to buy an ereader if only it were less bulky!” because we’re comparing ereaders to books, which are about as bulky as bulky gets.

    I will say I like the idea of folding as compared to shrinking ereaders to smartphone-dimensions because the page size is, for me, one of the advantages of ereaders over phones.

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