E-volving market offers new choices for good reading

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The e-book market is starting to heat up, and evolve.

Scribd ( http://scribd.com ), an existing web site which provided online access to books and documents, is partnering with publishing giant HarperCollins to offer a Netflix-like subscription model for e-books. For $8.99 a month, users can access any of the books in the program whenever they like. The service will only offer books published prior to July 2012. Scribd had been testing the service with books from smaller publishing companies and hopes to add other major publishers as well.

The program works on iOS devices, Android devices and on web browsers.

Meanwhile, Amazon will introduce its new "Matchbook" service this month. It's aimed at Kindle users who also have a lot of physical books ordered from Amazon (for example, books purchased before the customer started using Kindle). Under the program, you'll be able to very cheaply download Kindle versions of ink-and-paper books you've purchased from Amazon. The Kindle versions will be available for $3, $2, $1 or in some cases for free, depending on the publisher.

E-books, whether consumed on a tablet (like the iPad, Surface or Kindle Fire), a dedicated e-reader (like the Kindle Paperwhite), or some other device (smartphones, laptops, desktops), are rapidly growing in popularity. It's convenient to be able to take a library of books with you anywhere. Even at full price, e-books are usually cheaper than the same book in print, and you can often find sales or special discounts. There's also the program through local libraries ( http://reads.lib.overdrive.com ) that allows you to borrow e-books just as you would library books.

Even so, there are some who like the experience of having and holding traditional books, and I can understand that. Although much of the coverage of Amazon's Matchbook program has focused on people digitizing their older books, it's also possible that going forward, some readers may want to purchase both an e-book and a physical book, at the same time, if it's inexpensive to do so. Supposedly, the recent resurgence in vinyl records includes some people with turntables but others who just see the vinyl as a sort of souvenir, a tangible tribute to the band, not unlike a concert T-shirt. Some people may want to continue to own physical books for the same reason, even if they start doing their actual reading on a tablet or e-reader.

I only know that I've read a lot more, and enjoyed it a lot more, since buying my e-reader a year and three quarters ago.

One thing you haven't been able to do with e-books is get your copy autographed. That may be about to change. Apple has patented a system that would allow autographs on e-books. The system would allow not only autographs, but content -- say, a short video, a sample chapter from the author's next book, or some other bonus material -- to be added to the copy of the book on your tablet as your souvenir for attending an author event.

That's just in the patent stage right now, with no indication when or if it will be introduced as an actual app, feature or product. Whatever it is, it would likely be exclusive to Apple devices.

It seems to me I read about a similar system a couple of years ago, one that would take a photo of you with an author, allow the author to instantly sign the photo on a touchscreen, and then send it to your e-reader. I haven't read anything about this system since, however.

The continued evolution of the marketplace indicates that e-books aren't just a fad but the wave of the future.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.

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