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Elgan: Here comes the e-book revolution

Six trends are conspiring to drive electronic books into the mainstream

February 7, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - At what temperature do electronic books catch fire? We're going to find out sometime this year. E-book sales are about to ignite.

On Monday, Amazon.com is expected to unveil a new version of its Kindle reader. It will probably be a lot better and a little cheaper than the first version. But the real news already broke this week: A company spokesman announced that Amazon plans to offer Kindle books on cell phones.

This news countered Google's announcement that the 1.5 million public domain books available on its Google Book Search offering will soon be available (free, of course) via a new cell phone application.

I believe that cell phones will quickly outpace the dedicated e-book readers, including the Kindle, as the platform of choice for e-book readers. Leading the pack? The iPhone, ironically.

When asked by The New York Times a year ago about the quality of the Amazon Kindle, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, famously, that "it doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore." (It was an ironic statement, because one heard it by reading -- all the more so for me, as I first read it on a Kindle.)

It's worth noting that Amazon.com sold more Kindles (at least 500,000) in its first year of sales than Apple sold iPods in its first year (378,000).

Apple may not understand the value of e-books, but iPhone users will embrace them anyway. The reason is simple: The iPhone has a huge, high-quality screen. And its user base includes millions of people who love to do everything on their iPhones, including reading, which they're already doing with online content.

I (and others) have been predicting for some time that Apple will ship a killer tablet at some point. This device, I believe, will have the iPhone user interface and a super high-quality screen. It will be ideal for reading e-books as well.

Why people will read e-books

Just because e-books are available on better (the new Kindle) and more (all cell phones) devices doesn't mean people will read them. But mark my words, read them they will. Six trends will conspire over the next year to drive e-book reading to levels that will surprise just about everybody.

1. The economy. The economy is in the tank, and people are looking to cut costs any way they can. An Amazon Kindle pays for itself after the purchase of 20 or 30 books, then starts paying dividends. You save big on books, magazines and newspapers. These savings will grow even more attractive as the recession deepens.



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