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The e-book and e-reader space is beginning to feel like the handheld business did a few years ago — a lot of companies jockeying for position, adoption rates that get your attention, deals being struck for long-term plays, and yet a sense that the mainstream breakthrough has not quite arrived.

But it feels closer than ever — approaching slowly, swimming constantly, seeking, sensing. A fin on the horizon? USA Today now includes Kindle sales in its bestseller lists. Another? A group of authors recently banded together to send free copies of their books to US troops who have Kindles.

The stakes were raised recently by two moves — Sony’s introduction of two new, wireless-enabled e-readers, and Barnes & Noble’s deals with Smashwords and Plastic Logic to create a reader/content storefront capable of rivaling Amazon‘s in some respects.

There’s even a rumor that Apple and Verizon are teaming up on a reading tablet.

It’s particularly interesting to see what Barnes & Noble is doing — opening up the platform, pushing to have 1 million e-book titles in their store, selecting AT&T as their partner so that Europe and parts of Asia can get e-books through them, partnering with an e-content partner (Smashwords) that has rapidly become a favorite among independent and entrepreneurial authors, and partnering with a device that has been lurking like a Great White shark in the shallows, possibly to make the kill — the Plastic Logic reading device.

The amount of money at stake is growing. The players are bringing more to the battle lines.

To quote a popular ad, “Oh, it’s on!”

I think I picked a good time to enter as an independent author. In the six months since I published my first novel, the market has changed significantly. Now, publishing my second novel, I’m finding a more sophisticated e-book market in front of me. There’s Scribd, which has gone commercial in the interim. There’s Smashwords, which has gone from zero to 60, and just integrated my new book into the Barnes & Noble agreement. The Kindle’s ecosystem is much more sophisticated, with dedicated reviewers and boards enlivening sales and discussions.

Books are moving online, and this blend of devices and storefronts are making it happen. In fact, as one insightful literary agent reminded me via a post of his own, reading will probably be accomplished across multiple devices. Which makes all these players’ games all the more complex.

One interesting note related to yesterday’s post is that a lot more talent and imagination has emerged and will emerge to match this new ecosystem. Publishers are being circumvented more and more often. New, shorter forms of content (blogs, short stories, mid-length novels) are being written just for these devices. It won’t be long, I think, before entire educational programs are created specifically for these devices. Look at what happened in California recently.

The sharks are circling. Fiction is moving to e-readers quite quickly. Other forms of written content will follow.

Are you swimming fast enough?

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


3 Thoughts on "E-books: Tasting Blood in the Water"

Thanks Kent. As a textbook publisher in the schools arena, I find the rise of the Xerox as big an impediment to digital uptake as anything else. Teachers seem addicted to converting out digital material back to print so they can hand it around cheaply. Companies like Xerox have a big role to play in what happens next..

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