The slow pace of ebook innovation

The Android ecosystem shares some of the same obstacles

I love this comment from Dave Bricker regarding an earlier post, EPUB 3 facts and forecasts:

Ebook vendors enjoy a closed loop ecosystem. They have millions of reader/customers who are satisfied with EPUB 2 display capabilities and devices. Amazon readers, for example, are largely content with the offerings in the proprietary Kindle store; they’re not lining up with torches and pitchforks to push for improvements. While publishers wait for eReader device manufacturers to add new features and EPUB 3 support, eBooksellers are just as happy to wait.

The best way to promote EPUB 3 right now is to bypass it in favor of delivering ultra-innovative books through the web and app-based distribution. When we can give eReader device makers a compelling reason to bring eReaders into parity with apps and webkit browsers, they’ll put their mouths where our money is. Until eBookstores know they’re losing sales to alternative/open channels, they’re going to sit pretty, stall, and make money doing what they’re doing.

Who’s pushing for innovation in the ebook space? Publishers? No, they’re fairly content with quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions and they’re risk averse when it comes to making big investments in richer content formats. Retailers? Nope. If retailers were motivated we’d see much broader adoption of EPUB 3 in the various readers and apps out there.

This reminds me of the Android challenge. It’s widely known that new versions of the Android OS don’t get adopted as rapidly as new versions of Apple’s iOS do. That’s because the carriers (e.g., AT&T) and handset makers (e.g., Samsung) have no incentive to update all the existing devices. They’d prefer to force you into a new phone rather than give you a quick OS update with all the new features.

This is one area that Apple really understands and gets right. When they come out with a new version of iOS they have it pushed out to as many customers as possible (assuming their devices can support it). Apple knows there’s so much sex appeal for each new device they don’t have to starve existing device owners from the new OS features.

Will an ebook vendor ever follow Apple’s iOS model and lead the industry to a more accelerated pace of innovation? Or is Dave Bricker right that web delivery is the best way forward?

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