The E-book Opportunity
"Sony is not looking to sell books," May notes. "They are looking to offer that unified experience."
The importance of cross-platform digital book sales has become clearer since the release of the iPad and success of branded e-book apps from Kindle, Nook and others. Amazon's recent upgrades to its Kindle app included new audio and video functionality, which several media outlets noted makes it more competitive with its own hardware device (Dow Jones' Simon Constable wondered if Kindle's app would prove a "Kindle killer").
The success of such apps fogs the crystal ball for those looking to interpret the significance of Amazon's recent announcement that e-books are outselling hardcovers. "It was a very well-crafted press release," May says. "I did not [read it as] ... e-books downloaded on the Kindle. I saw [total] e-books sold. ... It was not clear what device those books were being purchased on."
Amazon's improvements to its Kindle app have been matched by Barnes & Noble, which is clearly interested in creating an optimal reading experience on the iPad. With eight fonts to choose from and customizable layouts, colors and page backgrounds (including settings designed to mimic classic book design principles and make LED screen reading easier on the eyes), the Nook-branded app is designed to make Nook the first choice for those who wish to read books on a tablet device.
"It's about customer choice," Gottlieb says, "and we recognize that for some customers, an iPad is a terrific experience. We recognize it's not so much a case of, 'Is it iPad or Nook or Android?' For us, it's about the reading experience."
As the e-book market matures, the focus has begun to shift to consumer niches or levels of functionality perceived as underdeveloped, such as the education market. Barnes & Noble is renewing its push into digital education with NookStudy, an integrated software product allowing students to consolidate e-textbooks, class materials and notes into one interactive platform on their computers. A portable e-reader also designed to meet the specific needs of college students, the dual-screen Kno, will debut this fall.