The Current State of E-Readers | An Author’s Guide (Part V––iPads )

I started off this series by examining the Kindle, and then the NOOK, and then the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  This week, I’m going to take a (quick) look at the whole suite of Apple products that have by and large eroded any hold the dedicated e-reader held over the general reading public.  I’m talking about the computers you carry around in your pockets and backpacks, the mobile forward operating bases and command centers of your life, the little devices that have had a big impact on how we interpret our lives and arrange our days: the iPhone and the iPad.  Apple manufactures laptops, too, though making room for more traditional computers in this conversation might lengthen it to a mere century or two in length.  You might say that I could “talk for hours” about the changing role of the home or personal computer in everyday life.  I’m just going to allude to the fact that you can use an Apple Air or its predecessors to read e-books, using the same apps you might use on your mobile device.

It’s possible. It’s just that a laptop tends to not be the preferred device for most consumers who own more than one kind of Apple device.  And there are a lot of people who own multiple Apple devices.  In 2012, USA Today reported that roughly half of American households had at least one Apple product.  And the numbers didn’t end there; the article also stated that: “Americans don’t stop with just one device. Homes that own least one Apple, own an average of three. Overall, the average household has 1.6 Apple devices, with almost one-quarter planning to buy at least one more in the next year.”  And that was in 2012!  And when it comes to the iPad specifically, there’s even more reason to be hopeful: according to a report from the Stamford Advocate (drawing upon a longer piece for the Business Insider)  that’s so hot off the press it might smudge if you even look at it, Apple Inc just reported its quarterly earnings and the outlook for iPads remains good, despite a slight decline in total global tablet sales.  The Stamford Advocate’s Jay Yarow records Apple’s CEO Tim Cook as saying: “70% of people planning to buy a tablet plan to buy an iPad, per [a] ChangeWave survey.”  Seventy percent!  And that’s on top of the 200+ million units sold prior to 2014.  So, in summary … there are a lot of iPads out there, and there will be plenty more, as Apple continues to dominate the tablet market.

steve jobs with ipad

But what does this mean for you as an indie, hybrid, or self-publishing author?  Do people really use iPads the way they would use dedicated e-readers like Kindles and NOOKs?  As illustrated by this article for PC Magazine, the matter of what constitutes a dedicated e-reader and how it’s different from a tablet like the iPad has grown steadily more confusing.  Everyone more or less admits that they like the look and feel of the dedicated devices (which eschew backlighting, making for a more comfortable experience) but they are more likely to purchase a tablet like the iPad because of its versatility.  An iPad can simply do more, the general opinion runs, even though many devices like the new Kindle have a whole suite of apps a la tablet, and many tablets (including the iPad) have Kindle apps to sync a person’s reading experience via the Cloud.

In theory, it would be entirely possible to own a Kindle, an iPhone, an iPad, and a Macbook laptop, and move seamlessly from one device to another, picking up on one where you left off on the other––including if you happen to be listening to an audiobook version on your iPhone and use the WhisperSync function.  WhisperSync means you no longer have to worry about trying to find your place, even if you’re switching back and forth between reading and listening to a given book.  (Have I mentioned that I “nerd out” over technological innovations like this?  Ones that actually make life easier?  I do.  Often.)

So, yes, people really do use their iPads as their primary reading devices, in part because they’re so easily integrated into a larger “reading experience” as designed and made possible by Apple’s entire product line.  And because the iPad runs on an app-based (or “application-based”) operating system, you as an author need to know how best to make your books discoverable to the average iPad user.  Consider this list by ZDNet of top ebook apps as downloadable through the App Store:

  1. iBooks (Apple’s own signature e-reading app)
  2. Amazon’s Kindle app
  3. Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Library app
  4. The Kobo Books app
  5. The Google Play Books for iPad app
  6. The Bluefire Reader for iPad app

… and it’s worth noting, before even discussing the pros and cons of each app, that all of these apps are downloadable for free through the App Store, even if the content for them must be subscribed to, purchased, or loaned (in the case of both Bluefire and the Overdrive Media Console app, which are favorites of many public libraries which offer downloadable ebooks in addition to their physical lending collections).  Books with half a century under their belts are (for the most part) available under Public Domain, and many of these classics are available for free in a variety of formats.

Now, don’t get me wrong, but even while all of this is great news for readers, it doesn’t necessarily make for light work for you, the indie author.  Why?  Because, with so many reading app options easily available on the iPad, the chances of readers discovering your work diminishes with every app your book is not available through.  Not to mention, you probably want to make a profit, so a library’s free ebook loaning system doesn’t benefit your bottom line at all––unless readers run out of time and end up purchasing a copy in order to finish (which does, on occasion, happen).  In summary, it’s a good idea to cover all of your bases and not just the “big three” of ebook sales (Amazon, Apple, and B&N).  Google Play has been on the uptick ever since its creation as the primary sales conduit to devices running Android operating systems, but now it’s emerging as a contender for iPad owners as well, after the development of an attractive and intuitive app for iPads.  The Kobo Books app and the Adobe Reader app should also be kept in mind––many readers enjoy the streamlined experience of opening .PDF files with the Adobe Reader app, so you should not rule out offering a .PDF download of your book through some online retailer or your own personal website.  Basically, the more places a reader is likely to see your book, coupled with more ways and editions and formats in which it can be downloaded, the more likely that reader is to spend hard-earned currency on purchasing your book.  Balancing expense (of time, energy, and money) against discoverability is, perhaps, one of the trickiest of self-marketing arts that you must master––but you’re not alone.  We’re here to help, and to be a sounding board for your own strategic plan!

Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

The Current State of E-Readers | An Author’s Guide (Part IV––the Samsung Galaxy Tab)

Last week, I examined the dedicated e-reader designed for use with Barnes & Noble’s stores, both digital and brick and mortar––the NOOK.  And if you read that post, you’ll recall that I mentioned Barnes & Noble will no longer be producing a dedicated e-reader, and in fact is no longer producing an e-reader at all; it is, however, lending its name and all of the might of its online platform to the latest incarnation (or should I say “one of the latest incarnations?”) of the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  The resulting hybrid will give Barnes & Noble customers the necessary continuity to keep using the interfaces to which they have become accustomed, while also lifting the burden of production and distribution (at least, partially) from a company that is still, ultimately, struggling to keep its foot in the door of print book distribution.  Amazon’s Kindle store and Apple’s iPad have collectively changed the course of ebook distribution and consumption, whether we like it or not––and like so many others, Barnes & Noble and Samsung are hoping to create the next best thing, or a near-approximation of the iPad that still gives the bookseller an edge of control over the end user.

(There are altogether too many options on the iPad for a bookseller’s tastes––too many apps and too many readable file formats within those apps.  The more options, the less easily a bookseller can drive sales in a particular direction––and profits.)

Samsung Galaxy Tab

But we’re not here to talk about the new tablet (although you can read a most thorough CNET review here).  We’re here to talk about the original Samsung Galaxy Tab series, which is now up to at least its tenth iteration … if not a higher number (they throw in variant names, with the “Galaxy Tab S” and “Galaxy Tab Pro” and so on complicating a neat and orderly numbering system).  The entire line is noted, however, first and foremost for being the first (or among the first, depending on who you ask) to embrace a full Android operating system––and as such, it became a solid, distinct, and direct competitor to both the iPad (which runs on Apple’s iOS) and the Kindle (which varies a bit from iteration to iteration, but for the most part employs a heavily modified and limited version of Android).  I think it’s worth mentioning both tablets like the iPad and dedicated e-readers like the Kindle in the same breath when it comes to the Samsung Galaxy, because the relationship between the two is hybridizing so quickly as partnership projects like the Samsung Galaxy NOOK become the new normal.

Here’s the thing with the Samsung Galaxy Tab series that gives it an edge over the Kindle and the original NOOK: it’s a fully-fledged tablet, with a far wider range of capabilities as a device than a dedicated e-reader.  You can access the Google Play store, and run a whole slew of apps that have little or nothing to do with books, and yet the reading-related apps you can download are beautifully designed and presented, so the e-reading experience is still highlighted and underscored as important to app developers.  Many people rate the average Samsung device as somewhat less responsive and intuitive than the iPad, but Apple is famously canny about using software to create closed loops around its hardware (that is, the average iPad has to be “jailbroken” before it is “hackable”––you have to actually tamper with the operating system to render it more adaptable).  Basically, Android-based operating systems like the ones the Samsung Galaxy Tablets run are way more easy to customize, tinker with, and generally geek out over.

Samsung Galaxy NOOK

And there are a lot of Samsung Galaxy Tabs out there.  There are no hard and fast numbers for me to quote to you, but it’s safe to say they’re not hurting too badly if they have the capital to launch “boutique” or specialized lines like the NOOK hybrid.  (Each iteration costs a lot of money and time and talent capital to design and maintain and run support for.)  Some recent reports do, however, indicate that sales were not quite as high as they should have been––and as the company supposedly reported them to have been––and this is a matter of great concern.  Samsung has the benefit of a large support network and a diverse portfolio to fall back on if one project or device doesn’t sell well; Barnes & Noble had no such safety net, and thus lost its ability to respond effectively to rapidly shifting market demands.

Here’s what you need to know as an author when it comes to the Samsung Galaxy Tab: it’s not going anywhere.  Oh, iterations come and go the way my love of rain comes and goes (and boy, does that one fluctuate a lot).  But the great thing about a series like this one is that Samsung will continue to make new additions as long as the market exists and as long as there is a demand for Android-based devices that aren’t locked into being dedicated e-readers like the Kindle.  Customers want variety and customizability, games and work and literature all in one device, without the need to untangle multiple cables or swap out chargers on the nearest wall outlet.  And as long as there are Android-based operating systems, the Google Play store will remain an important distribution point to keep an eye on.

Are you selling through Google Play?  I personally hope so, and if you are and would like to share your story, please (please please) drop me a line in the comment section with all of the details.

Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.