Carmody says he bought the Kindle for the e-ink display it uses, which, unlike the rival LCD display used in laptops and Apple's upcoming iPad, works in direct sunlight and is easier on the eyes when reading for long stretches of time. The battery life is also good, he says, and he's shopped with Amazon for a long time, so he's comfortable with the vendor and likes the fact that the Kindle offers access to content beyond books '” newspapers and magazines, for example.
The other main players in the Australian eBook reader market come from a handful of smaller companies. They are the ECO Reader, the QuokkaPad and the BeBook, as well as several offerings direct from the Dymocks chain, such as the Hanlin eBook Reader and the ILiad eReader.
Richard Siegersma, chief executive of wholesaler Central Book Services, says the company launched the ECO Reader in Australia last year because at that point, there just weren't many other choices.
'We felt that we needed to do something that would give Australians an option,' he said. 'I thought Australia needed something, and I thought we needed to avoid the lock-in from providers who were locked in to a particular provider of content.'
On the horizon loom several giants '” Sony's Reader line-up, which isn't available yet in Australia, and Apple's iPad, slated to hit Australia before April. And there hasn't been a hint of a rumour that Barnes and Noble's Nook device '” sold in the US '” will ever be available locally.
One final hardware option for reading eBooks is one that you might already have '” your smartphone. Many owners of Apple's iPhone handset, for example, have long been taking advantage of applications such as Stanza to get their daily fix.
However, both Lawrence and Carmody pointed to the single function nature of their Kindle e-readers as being important, as opposed to being integrated with email, mobile phone functions and so on. Lawrence said when reading, he didn't want to be 'continually distracted by email, instant message and other interruptions' and have to pay 'continuous partial attention' to those communication platforms.
'When the Kindle was launched here, people were saying: 'Well, you've got this device, it should be able to do all these other things',' he said. 'I quite like having it as a single purpose device. I've got the iPhone to do that other stuff anyway.'
The key question for all sellers of eBook readers '” and a situation that the makers of other entertainment platforms such computer game consoles have long faced '” is the availability of content on their respective hardware devices. In general, whether you can get a book in electronic form comes down to who owns the copyright on that book, and what they want to allow '” or disallow.
For example, it's relatively easy to get eBooks by authors that have passed away '” Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. Such books are generally out of copyright, which means anybody can sell or modify them in any form. Some e-readers, such as the ECO Reader, come with a number of these classic books pre-loaded.
And it's easy to download more '” Project Gutenberg has been collecting free eBooks since 1971 and currently has a store of more than 30,000, available in the popular ePub and Mobipocket formats, or even in HTML or text formats.
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