3 April 2012

Bits, bobs, and anecdata

Just a few things I’ve been reading over the last few days:


Anecdata: My sister is an illustrator who has been working on children’s books and, because of her animation background, she has been getting queries about doing animation work for children’s book iPad apps.


In one of her other children’s book projects, she and her writer did a few art style tests. She put together a few test images in a couple of styles and did a bit of user research. I.e. showing them to every child they could find and having a conversation about what they thought about it.

A humbling experience, I’m told, for any artist.

The conclusion surprised her, even though she says it probably shouldn’t have: the children and the adults had completely divergent tastes in art styles.

The styles she knows critics and awards committees in Iceland prefer, failed completely to engage the kids.

In any case, readers trump critics, always and every time, so, they’re going with the less ‘arty’ style.


I haven’t touched my Kindle since I got my new iPad. Reading on it is just so much nicer.

The screen has neatly removed any hardware lock-in that Amazon might have had on me. I’m much more open to checking its competitors out.

Unfortunately, I can’t stand the design of Kobo’s app. Its gameification is awful both in concept and in practice (the constant dumb awards are incredibly annoying and the social features are invasive and distracting, even when turned off) and I don’t use Facebook. Kobo’s two biggest selling points are two strikes against it as far as I’m concerned.

Nook is a non-starter, as I’m in Europe.

Buying from a place like Waterstone’s and using an ereader app that supports Adobe’s DRM would be an option if I hadn’t run into problems with Adobe’s DRM in the past. Not as bad as some of the frequent horror stories I’ve heard, though. Add to that the crap experience everybody’s had with Adobe’s other copy protections (apps) and support (nearly non-existent) and let’s just say that I’m more likely to trust the Conservatives to implement a Scandinavian-style health service than Adobe with DRM.

Foyles and Bluefire don’t support the retina display so, in any case, they aren’t in the running at the moment. I’m not waiting for them to deliver.

That leaves us with iBooks which, for everybody who doesn’t want to be the digital equivalent of the pretentious hipster reading pseudo-intelligent books in a public cafe, seems to be the Kindle’s only viable competitor.

And it isn’t much of a competitor since its store is a bit of a mess.

Still, I’m now checking the iBookstore for titles where before they weren’t even in the running.


Apple is selling roughly 10–12 million iPads a quarter.

Most of the estimates I’ve seen on Kindle sales put them in the 10–12 million device territory. Even if we’re generous and say that there will be 20 million Kindles in the wild in six months’ time, Apple is by then likely to have sold 20–24 million retina display iPads. Amazon needs to move fast if it plans on keeping up with Apple on the hardware front, if it even can.

The Kindle risks evolving into a limited market catering to more dedicated readers; the general publishing industry’s equivalent of the comic book direct market.

A market like that is as close to having a captive audience that a free market can get, extremely lucrative, as the direct market was for a long while, but with almost no long-term growth prospects.

To break out of this, ereader platforms need some sort of funnel where non-readers are turned into casual readers, and casual readers are turned into serious readers. To be able to do that, they need to be competitive with games, the web, and other interactive media.

Libraries and bookstores used to be that funnel; this was exactly their role. Given the current rate of library and bookstore closures, that, I think, is a thing of the past.

Like I said in my Lessons in interactivity post, books are losing their public presence. Without it, the number of new readers will become fewer and fewer every year.

(I’ve been reading about the comic book direct market for close to fifteen years now and the similarities between the Kindle platform and the direct market are uncanny. If I’m right, the ebook market is now where the direct market was around 1990.)

The iPad is clearly a growing mass market and, despite Apple’s and Amazon’s best efforts, no reading platform has a lock on it. But to get a firm hold of iPad users, ebooks need to prove their value to non-readers and casual readers.

Pretentious essentialist tripe about how reading is a superior experience and ‘people will always want to read’ won’t cut it.

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