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In 2007 a paltry 3,073 audiobook titles were produced and this figure rose exponentially to over 12,000 published in 2011. In 2013 many industry experts proclaimed that over 20,000 audiobooks were now available and in 2014 over 35,000 were released by major publishers and companies like Audible.

The global audiobook industry is currently worth 2.6 billion dollars and part of the reason why we have seen a dramatic increase in profitability is due to digital. In a recent  New York Times piece, they said “In the first eight months of 2014, sales were up 28% over the same period last year, far outstripping the growth of e-books, which rose 6%”

One of the biggest markets for audiobooks in the world, is not the US or UK but Germany. In a recent annual survey conducted by the Allensbach Institute said that Germans consume more audiobooks than e-books. In the last twelve months, close to five million Germans have purchased an audiobook, which accounts for 7% of the overall population. This is one of the hottest segments currently operating and ironically gets the least amount of attention.

Digital audiobooks are finally starting to find their stride thanks to libraries embracing them in a big way. There are a number of major players providing audio services to libraries, 3M Cloud Library, Baker & Taylor, Hoopla and Overdrive. For the most part, these are the exact same companies that provide the libraries e-Book portfolio. In the US, 95% of all libraries have a digital collection and audio content is starting to play a more central role.

Audiobooks actually works fairly differently than e-Books do, on a business level. Many of the top distributors lean on 3rd parties for a full catalog of content. 3M and Baker and Taylor both get their audio editions from Findaway World, which is current market leader in production. Findaway has a catalog of over 50,000 titles and maintains production studios, narrators and crew in New York. Overdrive has their own internal solution, where they approach publishers directly and don’t do business with companies such as Audible or Findaway World.

Tom Mercer, Marketing Manager of 3M Cloud Library said “we see a tremendous opportunity to grow in the Audio space in 2015. Right now we’re two weeks into the “real world” of Audio, but customers really seem to like our solution. Our initial Beta feedback from very positive.”

Hoopla is an audiobook solution for libraries that floats under the radar, but are quickly making a name for themselves. The company has a catalog of 13,000 titles with 1,000 added each month. Hoopla deals with over 100 libraries in the US and charges no licensing fees with setting up the system, which is quite appealing to the average library. How does Hoopla make money? The company has employed the Pay Per Use model, which only charges the library when a specific title is checked out by a patron. The San Francisco Public Library said they are are predicting that in 2015 more companies will embrace the Hoopla model, which will lower costs for libraries and get more content in-front of the patrons.

How well are the publishers doing in the audiobook sector? Cheryl Herman, marketing director for Penguin Random House’s Books on Tape & Listening Library said. “Our library sales for digital audio are up nearly 35% over 2014, we’re offering more and more titles on audio, and we’re not alone in that. There are also more players entering the market, and more titles overall being published than ever before.”


Audible is the undisputed market leader in audiobook production and distribution. Matthew Thornton the Director of Communications at Audible said “Audible content includes over 180,000 audiobooks and other spoken-word programming from leading audiobook publishers, broadcasters, entertainers, magazine and newspaper publishers, and business information providers. Non-audiobook content includes lectures, meditations, language lessons, comedy and periodicals.” Audible has added 40,000 titles their store in 2014, a very slight increase versus 2013. In both 2013 and 2014, Audible Studios and ACX productions account for just about half of all titles added to the Audible storefront.

Audible has seen a massive amount of success by branching out in international markets, where their is more synergy between Kindle e-readers and tablets. Matthew proudly exclaimed “Audible now operates thirteen global outlets including Audible.co.uk in London, Audible.de in Berlin, Audible.fr in Paris and Audible.com.au in Sydney.”

One of the big reasons why Audible adds so much content to their portfolio on a yearly basis is due to the Audiobook Creation Exchange. Publishers and authors who own unused audiobook rights can post them on ACX, along with narration preferences (e.g., narrator’s gender, accents, voice types). Audio publishers and audio studios—as well as individual narrators with home studios—can search for titles that interest them and then audition to turn those rights into audiobooks. Rights holders can hire a narrator or producer, or create entrepreneurial partnerships with shared royalty structures that allow audiobooks to be produced without upfront costs. Alternatively, existing audio publishers can simply use ACX to discover audio rights to produce on their own.

Production Costs and Star Power


Audiobook prices are often drastically inflated and is a financial barrier for mainstream adoption. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green costs $4.99 for the Kindle edition, but the audiobook costs $17.99. Max Brooks seminal World War Z – The Oral History of the Zombie Wars costs $9.99 for the Kindle edition, but the audiobook will set you back $28.00.

Why are audiobooks so overpriced compared to e-Books and print? It comes down to billable hours. It comes down to the studio costs, which the publishers call cost per finished hour. Each audiobook is on average around 12 hours, which costs on average $300 and $400 an hour. They also have to account for multiple takes and editing. The finished product after its all said and done is normally $5,000 to $6,000 to make the audiobbook.

Some companies ride on the back of star power to draw attention to the digital edition and use them for marketing purposes. The aforementioned World War Z hired 21 different voice actors, such as Simon Pegg, Common and Martin Scorsese. Even hiring just one famous person to narrate the book, drives the production costs up exponentially. The average cost is now $1000 to $1500 per book hour and the final product would cost over $17,000.

Matthew Thornton explained a bit on how Audible embraces star power. “One of the ways we’ve worked to improve the overall customer experience of listening to audiobooks is in elevating the quality of audiobook performance—embracing A-List celebrities (among those who’ve recorded for Audible are Colin Firth, Dustin Hoffman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon) as well as up-and-coming young actors at Juilliard, Yale, Stella Adler and other acting schools where Audible offers narration workshops. We’ve had great success with celebrity-narrated projects like the Gyllenhaal-narrated The Great Gatsby, Ben Stiller performing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  As importantly, high-profile narrators raise the visibility of these terrific listening experiences—something we liken to “theater in your ear”—and raise the visibility of this burgeoning art form.”

Major Publishes and companies that are heavily invested in audiobooks really have to look at what titles are best suited to make the transition. Any of the perennial bestsellers and books slatted to be made into a major motion picture are often the first ones slatted for production.  They basically have to insure with the other titles can be money earners and not loss leaders.

Newspapers Embrace Audio

guardian audio

Audio these days is not only reserved for fiction and non-fiction books, but newspaper companies have been embracing this model as well.

The Guardian newspaper forged a relationship with Audible. Every week the Guardian Audio Edition will hit Audible, and give you a feel for the UK’s book scene and new book releases. Audible has also sponsored the Guardian Books homepage, its weekly books podcast, and its books review pages, with co-branded advertising across the newspaper’s website and print edition.

One of the big trends in journalism in 2014 has been producing audio editions of top stories. The Guardian started do this early last year and regularly garners 17 to 30 thousand listens for each audio edition they post. The New York Times, NPR , New Yorker and hundreds of other publications do this as well.  This is actually a huge trend in the news industry, and likely you will hear more about it, as established journalists try and compete against dedicated podcasters.

Good e-Reader recently has been adding audio functionality to our top stories. We have noticed that more people are listening to the audio edition then reading some of the stories. This is primarily due to the audio just not appearing on our site, but also getting distributed to the podcasting system on iTunes.  The first story we did in this fashion got over 5,000 listens in two days.

Vancouver based PressReader is also heavily involved with the audio capabilities of newspapers. Every single one of their 3,000 newspapers have text to speech functionality, they will read any story you want aloud. This makes sense for people who can no longer read the tangible paper, without a magnifying glass or have other vision problems.

Whats Next?


Listening to audiobooks has never been easier. Libraries all over the world now offer the service and Audible distributes their entire catalog of titles not only through their own app and Kindle devices, but also sources everything to iTunes. How can the industry get customers to listen to more digital editions?

The largest bookseller in the US, Barnes and Noble got into audiobooks in late November 2014 is  hoping to capitalize on the trend and advertise them in their entire chain of retail stores. Kashif Zafar, Vice President of US Digital Content at NOOK Media told Good e-Reader exclusively that his company is putting a company wide focus on audio titles and this is a huge priority for them.

In order to get customers invested in the Nook ecosystem they are promoting the fact they have 50,000 audiobooks from major publishers and every week there will be listing five free audiobooks that new users can browse and download two for free. There is no signup required or credit card needed for the account in order to take advantage of this promotion. The titles were exclusively vetted to span multiple genres and picked especially for the overall quality of the narration. During the first week the following titles will be available; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, Ender’s Game (Ender Quintet #1) by Orson Scott Card, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Heist (Fox and O’Hare Series #1) by Janet Evanovich and Seabiscuit by Lauren Hillenbrand.

Will the serious e-Book reader embrace audiobooks the same way they switched from print to digital? It doesn’t look too likely, recently we ran a poll that asked 384 people if they listed to them. 33% have never listened to an audiobook before and 23% said they at least tried, but gave up. A paltry 14% said they listen to audiobooks all the time, which is the main challenge the publishing industry is facing.

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When Sony and Amazon first got into the e-reader business, they were considered a new breed of luxury items. The first generation Kindle retailed for $399 and the PRS-500 was $349. Needless to say, only the most hardcore of readers were buying into the new way to consume digital books. In the last few years, you can pick up a ultra modern device for $79. Whats changed?

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo are in the race to the bottom. They are forgoing a number of critical features to be able to compete against each other in the lucrative US and UK market. Overall build quality is suffering, internet browsing has never improved and the lack of audio bucks the trend of technological convergence.

In 2011, we started to see e-readers come down in price. The Kindle Keyboard was massively discounted from $189 to $99. Barnes and Noble discounted their Simple Touch Reader to $99 and Kobo did the same. This was the last year that we saw a new reader have speakers and a 3.5mm headphone jack that was capable of playing audiobooks and music files.

The lack of audio in modern e-readers prevent them from being rolled out into schools and institutions of learning. The chief reason is because visually disabled people cannot use the devices and feel excluded. The National Federation of the Blind have been overzealous in this regard and have prevented Amazon from starting pilot projects to get e-readers in schools. They went as far as organizing protests right outside Amazons Seattle headquarters, saying at the time “no student should be left behind.”

The e-reader industry as a whole has lost most of its innovative spirit, the vast majority of companies that were around from 2007 to 2011 are not around anymore. There was some truly interesting e-paper technology that could have changed the game, such as Bridgestone e-paper, Liquavista, LG, Mirasol, Pixel QI, and Plastic Logic. The reason why most of these companies abandoned the e-reader space, was because all of the notable players were risk adverse. After bringing the entry level price from $399 to $99 for an e-reader, the price could never dramatically increase again, which limited their options of dealing with new companies, whose technology would be expensive to manufacture at first.

The race to the bottom  has not only limited consumer options, but it has effectively edged out smaller companies that offer alternative e-readers. Icarus, Onyx Boox, Pocketbook and Wexler aren’t exactly household names, but have been making e-readers in Eastern Europe, Russia and China for years. All of these guys initially focused on the western market, but they simply couldn’t produce enough units, in order to get big discounts at the factory, which effectively relegated them to markets where Amazon and Kobo haven’t entered yet.

I have been following the e-reader industry since the first generation Sony and Kindle e-readers. I was at CES in 2010 when e-readers were everywhere, there were literary hundreds of companies wanting to enter the space, looking for strategic partner. In 2011, there were hardly any to be found, as the industry gravitated towards multi-purpose tablets. e-Readers were on the cusp of doing some really amazing things, but now we just have a selection of products that all look the same. Put a Kindle Paperwhite 1  side by side to a Paperwhite 2 and see if anyone could tell the difference.

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Digital Watermarks or Social DRM is starting to catch on in Europe in a very big way. This new system of encryption makes loading eBooks on other devices or loaning them how to friends quick and intuitive. There are not special programs or tools needed to do any of this, which makes it quite attractive to publishers and online bookstores looking to sell books and still maintain a degree of security.

BooXtream is one of the largest companies who are involved in watermark technology and CEO Huub van de Pol sat down with Good e-Reader to talk how it all fundamentally works and provides an eye opening introspective into the world of digital watermarks and social DRM.

When did you guys seriously start to focus on digital watermarks as a viable business model?

Since 1993, Icontact develops bespoke software solutions for the book and library industry in The Netherlands and Belgium.

The very first start with digital watermarks was in 2006, when Icontact developed a custom digital distribution and fulfilment platform for audio books to be used by a Dutch audio book web shop and distributor.

The music industry was still using DRM at that time, and we all knew the problems with DRM. So to be customer friendly we decided that the shop needed to deliver MP3 audio files instead of one (or more) platform specific audio formats with DRM. As you know, MP3 cannot be copy protected and doesn’t support DRM. Instead, we developed a simple but effective way to personalize each MP3 file with info about the transaction, the name of the end user and the web shop that sold the audio book. This enabled us to locate the end user when an audio book is found on an illegal site or CD-ROM. The end users knew it worked like this and had no problem with it, so it worked like a reasonable deterrent.

We used all available tricks to add extra data in the mp3 file while keeping it compatible with the standard. Some data was visible (when you checked the file properties), but most were invisible to the end user. All personalisation took place dynamically after a valid order was registered. All mp3 files where then stored in a single ZIP container and a download link to this ZIP was presented to the end user. So essentially, every end user received a unique file with a personalized audio book. We registered the brand name BooXtream for this concept and technology.

After a couple of years, only very few of these audio books were found ‘in the wild’. 99.9% of all pirated content was ripped from CD’s. We presented this experience on a national eBook conference in 2010. After our keynote “Lessons learned with Social DRM”, several publishers not only liked the idea, they also asked us if we could do the same with eBooks instead of audio books.

At that time there were only a few ‘serious’ eBook shops in The Netherlands, but we saw the potential. We were excited by the possibilities and opportunities of the market. We decided to create an SDK to watermark ePub eBooks, which evolved into the web service as we are now offering. We built BooXtream for eBooks based on the idea (concept) of adding as much ‘invisible’ data as possible to the files in an ePub, tightly integrated with a digital distribution and fulfillment platform, an easy to integrate web service (RESTful) and an attractive and simple price model (no upfront costs, only pay by use).

BooXtream for eBooks 1.0 was released in fall 2010 and was offered as a web service based standard solution. (FYI: Icontact still develops custom software solutions. The BooXtream brand and product was bootstrapped, like an internally funded start-up.) Our launching customer was a small forward looking publisher in the Netherlands, but eBook watermarking really took off when UK based Pottermore decided to use it for the Harry Potter eBooks in 2012. This really created headlines all over the industry.

How does the essence of your technology work?

The essence is that we add ‘hidden’ data to all files in an ePub eBook file while keeping the eBook 100% valid, using several different proprietary algorithms. Our technology offers two basic features: adding invisible watermarks and adding visible extra’s like a personalized ex libris page, a personalized footer text at the end of every chapter or a personalized chapter at the end of the eBook. The invisible part is essentially a transactional watermark, creating unique files for every eBook and every end user..

Everything is configurable by our customers. BooXtream operates in real time, on transaction level, so our technology has to be integrated at the point of sale (where the actual distribution to the end user takes place).

There is no need to update any ‘client software’ when we update and improve our algorithms (as with Adobe DRM), which is possible because the eBooks are 100% valid and ePub compliant. In a technical sense, they are DRM free so they can be read by every e-reader and e-reading device out there.

One of the essential characteristics of eBooks with watermarks is that there is no need to remove watermarks to make a backup, read it on multiple devices or share it with someone you trust (casual sharing). This isn’t the case with DRM, which is one of the reasons a lot of people that have no intention to pirate or hack do use DRM removal tools.

Who would you say are your largest clients right now?

Our technology is used worldwide by 2 of the Big 5 publishers, some very large independent D2C publishers, several hundreds of medium sized publishers selling D2C, quite a few independent eBook web shops and also numerous web shops of smaller publishers, self publishing authors and systems integration.

Some publishers like to keep their name under the radar, but to name a few: Verso Books (US, UK), Cappelen Damm (largest publisher in Norway), Elly’s Choice (largest eBook subscription service in The Netherlands), Firsty Group (large solutions provider for the publishing industry in the UK), Profile Books (UK); web shops from Finland to Spain and from Peru to Colombia.

I saw you guys are a member of the IDPF, we sponsor many of their events, such as the main conference at Book Expo America.  How has being a  member affected your business?

We are big fan of Bill McCoy. He is doing a marvelous job with IDPF, creating and maintaining the ePub standards, Readium, EduPub and basically uniting the eBook publishing world. I think it was Bill who coined the term ‘Social DRM’ which we adopted for our original BooXtream tagline. Being a member gives us insight in the working groups and future developments, but it also helps us to be found by potential customers.

What are the main benefits as you see it, between watermarks and ADOBE DRM.

The only benefit of Adobe DRM is that it can be used for library lending purposes. You cannot use watermarking for this, as watermarking is not able to disable an eBook after a certain amount of time. The few libraries that are using watermarking do this as a ‘second line of defense in a closed ecosystems with apps.

There are quite a few benefits of watermarking:

With watermarked eBooks there is no need to use a specific (proprietary) e-reading client. Watermarked eBooks can be read on any device, with any software, as long as they are ePub compatible. This is a huge advantage, because it’s both user friendly and support desk friendly.

An eBook with watermarks can be read on different devices simultaneously. There is no need to remove DRM to do this. As an aside, there are plenty of DRM removal tools out there, but quite a few are Trojans or might contain a virus. The computer illiterate end user is far better off when he doesn’t need these tools, apart from the question if it’s legal or not to use them.

An eBook with watermarks can be backed-up using standard backup software. Again, there is no need to remove DRM to do this. This is very important because eBooks with DRM might get inaccessible when the web shop is getting out of business. This happened more than once.

Our watermarking tools also offers visible personalisation, which creates new business possibilities and makes the eBook really personal. It is being used to personalize review copies, it is used to personalize course guides and business reports (even those that are distributed for free). One of our customers allow their end users to customer the ex libris in their own eBooks, like the personal stamp from earlier times. Others insert personalized messages or dynamically add some banner links in the eBook.

 If people started to pirate books via BooXtream, what do you guys do about it, if anything?

Tracking and tracing illegal uploads is not our primary business. Sometimes pirated eBooks are discovered by our customers (publishers) when they search for their own titles. Part of our standard service is to help them decode the watermarks (if any, because the bulk of all pirated books are titles with DRM removed, not watermarked titles), so they can decide what to do. For larger-scale and automated discovery and enforcement we offer tools to anti-piracy third parties like MarkMonitor and Muso that are specialised in tracing copyright infringements, crawling the web, sending notice-and-take-down letters etc. Our tools enable them to look for the hidden watermarks within eBooks, decode them and take appropriate measures. They can use these tools as part of our and their arrangement with a publisher.


The Polish eBook industry is starting to see some significant gains and rose 28% in 2013. There are some differing opinions on the exact figures when it comes to digital publishing. Biblioteka Analiz research exclaims that eBooks are valued at $16.3 million USD, while Pricewaterhouse Coopers is more conservative at $8 million USD.

Piotr Kubiszewski is an independent expert in digital publishing in Poland since 2005. He notes that there is only 40,000 eBook titles currently in circulation and 80% of new books that come out are digitized.


Publishers are not overly concerned with digitizing their backlist titles right now, because there aren’t enough sales to make it financially viable. In 2013 the book selling industry was valued at $800 million USD, and only around $8-%16 million USD derived from eBooks.

On a consumer level, one of the barriers of eBook adoption is the VAT. Currently in Poland if you buy a digital title you are paying 23%, meanwhile print books are only taxed at 5%. The lower tax bracket on physical titles might be one of the deciding factors when libraries, schools and academia are establishing book acquisition budgets, it simply goes further with print.

One of the bright spots that have really increased the viability of eBooks is the unilateral acceptable of watermarks by the publishing industry. This is a stark contrast to North America, which bogs readers in a mire of Adobe DRM. In North America, the average digital reader is locked into dealing with one particular ecosystem, because of the way they package their encryption. You can buy from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Kobo, but their formats are not interchangeable. You simply can’t buy an Amazon title and read it on your Kobo.

Polish readers benefit tremendously from watermarks, because it does not restrict or hinder your ability to load the book on your e-reader, smartphone or tablet. No third party programs are needed and this makes the entire process more intuitive and encourages the loaning them out to your friends. Piracy is actually reduced because of watermarks, because there is a clear path of ownership and removing the marks is an arduous process, few practice.

The Polish eBook industry is dominated by a number of homegrown companies that have managed to flourish in the last five years. Virtualo.pl, Publio.pl, Nexto.pl, Woblink.com and eBookPoint.pl are the current industry leaders. Piotr’s research has noted that when it comes to eBook sales, 90% stem from EPUB or MOBI, while PDF files only account for 10%.

Amazon currently does not have an official presence in Poland, but that has not stopped the vast majority of readers from using them regularly. Kindle adoption is at record highs, 84% of all book sales from Publio.pl and 73% of Virtualo.pl are sold in MOBI, which is the main Kindle book format. It is very apparent that people are loyal to the Amazon brand over e-readers that are more common in that part of the world, including Tolino, Pocketbook, or Onyx.


The Chinese digital publishing industry is on the rise. Newspapers, magazines, comics and eBooks garnered 42 billion USD in 2012. This is a massive figure, but it only really accounted for 11.6% of the entire publishing industry. Chinese digital publishing has really grown up over the last two years with more companies focusing on smartphone delivery. New research has proclaimed that by the end of 2014, digital publishing will be valued at over 56 billion.

The Chinese digital publishing industry is targeting smartphones in a big way. There is currently 700 million active phones running Android, Windows or iOS. This is prompting creative deals such as Xiamen Bluebird Cartoon Co. partnering with Trajectory to adopt its popular TV series  Xingxing Fox and Close to the Great Society into digital books for children.

One  of the largest digital publishing websites is run by Cloudary, a website dedicated to contemporary Chinese literature.  They provide a wide range of digital services,  such as online eBook delivery and they also manage  six online reading and writing communities, with a user popular of  1.6 million members.

The thing I really like about the Chinese publishing industry is how innovative they are when compared to the way the North American scene is run.  One of China’s oldest publishing houses,  Zhonghua Book Co, entered the world of multimedia publishing by instigating a poetry contest that targeted mobile phone users.

The format was simple: Applicants simply had to compose an ode using the rigid formulas of classical Chinese poetry and send the resulting poem to Zhonghua via a text message. Over a period of four months, 43 million aspiring poets texted their work, either as original content for the competition or as messages to friends, who in turn forwarded the poem to other recipients.  By the end of the competition, the number of posts and reposts on mobile devices totaled 129 million, a huge number given that Zhonghua’s biggest-selling physical book, Thoughts on the Analects of Confucius sold 320,000 copies.

There are thousands of startups tackling app development, new content delivery methods and cool ways to appeal to the mobile reader.  All of this innovation is occurring due to Amazon, Apple and Google entering the market and fostering innovation. This is ruffling some political feathers, which prompted the  Chinese Central Government to issue a series of guidelines to help traditional publishing enter the digital world and offered financial assistance to make it happen.

China has a very deep rooted publishing industry and many are resistant about going digital. The average customer does not have a Android, Apple or iOS smartphone due to the costs and still rely on tangible books. The lack of technology is certainly the largest barrier, preventing the industry from reaching new heights.  Still, 56 billion US is a ton of money and it is showing that customers are firmly embracing a wide array of media content and  publishers are being savvy.


The English department and student library are undergoing some trying times when it comes to reading classic literature. A very high majority of young scholars find it a chore to have to read or being forced to do it. The libraries are seeing record number of seminal classics such as The Odyssey, Catcher in the Rye or the Great Gatsby not even being checked out once in a school year. This is resulting in some libraries removing classic novels from the shelves and sold off, or offered as donations.

Wisconsin parents and librarians are concerned that classic novels are being removed from schools. This is prompting a ton of complaints against the Department of Education. District workers over the summer are removing thousands of books and school workers at a loss why.

District workers who lack library training and collection management are entering libraries and removing of books that had been rarely checked out or were older than 2000, including classics, often without the knowledge or input of the librarian on staff, because they are on summer holidays.

One of the hardest-hit schools was Mitchell Middle School, according to Gabrielle Sharrock, she lamented “I was not consulted about books being removed and two days after the school was “weeded” I found dozens of boxes full of books slated to be destroyed, numerous shelves bare and most of the non-fiction section nearly cleared out.”

Middle school and high schools often employ a single librarian or a squad of two to maintain the entire collection. In order to keep the library updated district workers are dispatched during the summer months to weed out the books not loaned out at all during a school year, are in reprehensible shape or simply not relevant. Apparently classic novels such as Brave New World is not hip anymore, but Grumpy Catis permanently loaned out.

Do Students Hate the Classics?

District workers removing thousands of books and either donating or destroying them is sobering news. This does raise the interesting point of how current students view remedial reading or spending time in the library.

One student said “the point of English class is not to make you love books but trying to get you to deconstruct the author’s work. However, all throughout high school, I did no deconstructing of my own and instead just regurgitated what sparknotes said. This was partly due to laziness but more so because I didn’t actually understand the subtle points the book was trying to make.”

A recently graduated high school student countered “This is something the modern education curriculum needs to grapple with – information is now insanely pervasive, accessible, and instantaneous. It doesn’t require a dedicated night of research to figure out how to do your taxes by going to a library and digging through books.”

He continued “In terms of social benefit, through, this entire mess calls into question the systemic function of school in the first place – is deconstruction and analytical interpretation of literature a necessary skill in life? Hell no. So here is a question – why are you forcing it on all the nations youths, especially when it actively detracts from a long term healthy engagement with mentally stimulating writings? My own experiences pay privy to that notion since a good 90% of my peers haven’t read a book for leisure ever. Mainly because they were scarred by compulsory curriculum with arcane language and no modern cultural relatability.”

Finally, a current student at a Wisconsin High School said “I was utterly bored with Lord of the Flies and The Great Gatsby just because I didn’t have a choice in reading them”

Students over the years really have not changed. I remember with compulsory reading, 99% of the students hated it and used Sparknotes or Cliff Notes. At the middle or high school age students don’t like to be forced to read books and do essays on them. This is partly because of the books being unrelatable by modern conventions. It is no small wonder the books that go unread are the ones being tossed in the rubbish bin. I just hope that the future of humanity is not culturally devoid and speak exclusively in Emoji.

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Every single day there are 60,000 cruise, cargo and oil rigs in operation globally. The vast majority of staff that keep these operations running properly are workers from the Philippines, Malaysia, Russia and India. Many of the corporations that bankroll everything are putting a new emphasis on crew welfare and retention. This has opened up a new market for digital publishing companies to keep the staff entertained and use it as perks to keep trained personnel from going to the competition.

Maritime operations, whether its a cruise ship, oil rig or cargo vessel often do not have reliable internet access. The companies often deal with satellite internet providers such as VSAT and IMTECH. Internet access is purchased in blocks, where ships have very specific limits on how much data is available. In order to download eBooks, magazines or newspapers they have to be accessed in off-peak hours, when the internet is more reliable and not congested.

Cargo vessels and oil rigs often have staff that are on the vessel for up to six months at a time. Keeping them entertained is a top priority to keep them loyal and happy. This has opened up a tremendous niche in the marketplace where some companies are taking advantage of the sparse options currently available.

Vancouver based PressReader currently has a catalog of over 2,000 newspapers and magazines. They have developed a new offline system that will allow vessels to download content in non-peak hours and distribute it to smartphones and tablets via a shipwide WIFI network. Maritime companies are starting to select publications that are relevant to the nationalities of their workers and getting the top three or four titles from those countries. This would allow a boatswain from the Philippines to get free access to the Manila Times, UNO Magazine, and Daily Inquirer to read at their leisure. Providing perks like free newspapers and magazines gives workers and officers a taste of home, without having to spend any of their own money, its the corporate cash after all that pays for it.

Getting your staff to read safety guides, regulations, weather reports and orientation information is a trial and tribulation. The print editions are often destroyed in the heat and humidity or lost amidst the huge vessels. This has warranted digital distribution, and PressReader Offline supports the ability for companies to upload their documents in PDF form, to be downloaded to tablets and phones on-demand.

PressReader offline has been in a year long pilot project and the system was co-developed by Silver Seas Cruises. It was trialed on a number of vessels to get feedback on how it could be integrated, using existing systems and the limitations of satellite internet. The offline capabilities have been a big hit and is now being used on vessels globally.

Established satellite internet providers are also leaping at the oportonity to fill this burgeoning entertainment niche. InfoSat is currently developing a new system that will allow vessels to have unlimited satellite internet access and offer a wide array of media. Maps, music, Videos, Newspapers, magazines and eBooks will be a top priority for the global launch.

If you are a crewman on a military submarine, your options to access leisure content is severely hampered. Internet access is non-existent, due to security reasons, which traditionally made reading eBooks unfeasible. This has prompted the US Navy to partner with Findaway World for the NERD e-Reader. It comes with 300 eBooks and audiobooks and has no USB port or WIFi internet access. In essence, it is a tremendously low security risk and provides an alternative to movies or the XBox.

I think this is the perfect time for the maritime industry to embrace audiobooks, ebooks, magazines and digital newspapers as an avenue to retain staff and keep everyone entertained. After all, most just rely on mindless activities such as video games, movies or sports. Reading gives them a taste of home and a widened mind.


Sony opened up their first eBookstore in 2004 and was selling e-Readers before Amazon released their first generation Kindle. In early 2014 Sony got out of the eBook business and closed up shop in North America, United Kingdom, Europe and Australia. They encouraged all of their customers to switch to Kobo, as an avenue to continue purchasing content.

There is a long storied history of Sony being involved in the e-Reader sector and they released more models than anyone in the entire industry. Today we look at the evolution of the Sony brand, from the first device, until their last. Incidentally, if you like this evolution piece, check out the ones we did on Amazon and Kobo.

Sony Librie



The Sony Librie was otherwise known as the EBR-100EP and was originally released in April 2004. It was the very first commercial e-ink device, and was sold only in Japan, but many devices were sold in the US through online retailers and with a third-party English OS upgrade. This reader was the result of a three-year collaboration between Sony, Philips, Toppan printing and E Ink Corporation.

The resolution was 800×600, which was amazing at the time and many modern e-readers still adhere to this old standard. People were surprised this could hold over 10 books with the 10MB of storage and were able to listen to music and audiobooks via the speaker and headphone jack.

The Librie was interesting historically because Sony developed their own proprietary eBook format, LRF. This model basically only read books that were purchased from the Sony Japanese book store and had no support for PDF or other popular formats at the time, such as Microsofts, Nokia, or Palm.

Sony PRS-500




The Sony PRS-500 was known as “A Reader” in their promotional and marketing campaign. This was the first device that Sony marketed outside Japan and was released in September 2006. This was one year before Amazon unveiled their own Kindle reader.

Sony streamlined this e-reader and discarded the physical keyboard that was on their first device ever made. Instead, they went with a unique controller system that was in essence two joysticks. One was for page turns and the other for accessing the menu, settings or dictionary.

The first Sony reader could only store 10MB of data, and this model was upgraded to hold 64MB, which drastically increased the amount of books that could be loaded on it. No longer were customers forced to delete books they finished reading, but could store over 80.

This reader had the same e-ink screen as the Libri, but had a faster processor. On November 16, 2009, Sony announced that a firmware update is available to support the ePub and Adobe DRM format and add the ability to re-flow PDF documents”. Owners must send the reader into the Sony Service Centers for the updated firmware. You can obviously tell how infant the e-reader industry was during this era, when you had to mail away your e-reader for over a month for them to load in the new firmware for you.

Sony PRS-505




The Sony PRS-505 was originally released in October 2007, the same year Amazon unveiled their first generation Kindle. This model used a new e-Ink Vizplex display screen, which provided faster page turns than the prior models. Although the overall performance was enhanced, Sony still abided by the 800×600 resolution. This also marked the first time that you could charge a Sony reader via the USB cable.

Sony increased the internal storage yet again on this model, which saw a dramatic leap to 256MB and over 500 books available to be stored. Also, adding books to “Collections” (a feature to organize and group book titles) is now possible on the SD card, unlike the PRS-500 model.

July 24, 2008 marked the first time this model received a firmware update to support the fledgling ePub format Adobe Digital Editions 1.5 and Adobe DRM protected PDF files, automatic reflow of PDF files formatted for larger pages enlarges the text to improve readability, and support for high capacity SDHC memory card. This time, instead of sending the reader in to get the update,  it was provided as a free download, along with written instructions.

Sony PRS-700



The Sony PRS-700 was a benchmark e-reader and broke the mold on several fronts. It was the first touchscreen e-reader and the first model to feature an illuminated screen to let you read in the dark.

Sony heavily invested in touchscreen technology with their e-readers and this was the first of many to fully adopt it. Moving in this direction eliminated the D-Pad and most keys, minimizing the footprint and making it easier to hold.  This was also the first e-reader that allowed you to make highlights, annotations on the fly and take advantage of the new virtual keyboard.

The LED lights on this unit was a precursor to the front-lit technology we see on the modern 2014 readers, such as the Nook Glowlight, Kobo Aura and Kindle Paperwhite 2. It all started with Sony making in-roads and taking the risk of developing technology never seen before on an e-reader. The overall experience was really lacklustre and jaded executives so much that they said they would never make a LED reader ever again.

Sony  Touch Edition PRS-600




The Sony PRS-600 was known as the Touch Edition and was released the very same day as the five inch Pocket Edition on August 2009. This reader continued the trend of having a speaker and 3.55 headphone jack and relied on the touchscreen as a way to take notes and highlights.

The Touch Edition was the first time Sony marketed their readers in three different colors, black, white and red. This model also increased the storage from 256MB on the prior model to over 512MB.  It had the same resolution as the older models, so did not break any new ground on the ePaper front.

Up until the launch of the Touch Edition all Sony e-Readers were unable to read PDF or EPUB files out of the box. You had to either send them to Sony via snail mail for them to manually patch or do it yourself. This was the year that Sony firmly switched over from their own LRF format to EPUB and native PDF support.

The move to firmly embrace EPUB and PDF allowed a new generation of users to be able to not exclusively shop at Sony anymore for their books. Instead, they could deal with other retailers and use Adobe Digital Editions to sync up the purchases.

This was the first e-reader that Sony really stepped their marketing efforts on. They made a number of stock images for bloggers to use in their writeups and started blitz campaigns in the Sony Style stores and also expanded their retail distribution into countries like Canada.

Pocket Edition PRS-300




The Sony Pocket Edition was released on August 2009, the same day as the PRS-600. Sony went back to their roots by offering an entry level reader for a solid $199, which made it one of the cheapest models at this point in time.

One of the ways Sony saved many was abandoning the costly touchscreen technology and instead went with physical page turn keys, D-Pad and manual page turn buttons.  It also had no MP3 audio or expandable memory. It has a similar interface to the PRS-500 and PRS-505.

Sony Daily Edition PRS-900




When the Sony Daily PRS-900 was first unveiled in December 2009 it bucked the trend of the standard six inch device and incorporated a 7 inch screen.  Sony also borrowed a page out of Amazons playbook and offered free 3G internet access to the US version  of the Sony bookstore.

Sony increased the memory yet again to a whopping 2GB, which allowed over 1700 books to loaded on it. It also boosted up the resolution, making it the best on the market at this time. It had 1024×600, which was ideal for reading texts in landscape or portrait mode.

The Daily Edition was the first time there were no hardware buttons at all. It was completely reliant on the touchscreen and Stylus for all of your inputs. 2009 was a big year for Sony with 3 new devices hitting the market months within each  other.

This model was really expensive and set you back US$399 at the time of release. This was  mainly to offset the costs in the internet access, which at the time was a pricey value proposition. It was considered to be the very best e-reader on the market and was more accessible than Amazon.

Setting The Stage for the Next Generation


August the 10th 2010 was a milestone for Sony as they released the second generation Pocket Edition, Touch Edition and Daily Edition. The company really refined all of their technology and this lineup of devices was at the height of the e-reader and eBook boom period.

2010 was the year that competition really started to heat up between Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo. E-Ink, the Taiwan company responsible for all of the e-paper displays made over 3 billion in this year alone and even NEONODE, the company responsible for the IR touchscreen tech was making millions.

Sony used their advanced e-readers as an avenue for growth. They opened up online bookstores in the UK, Europe and Australia. All of these models were highly visible in the retail sector, but it was costly. Australians were paying almost 2x the retail cost in North America and most flocked to eBay or other online merchants to save a bundle.

This was the final year that e-Reader revenue was expanding at a geometric rate and it started to decrease in the following years. This was also the last year Sony released three new devices annually and only did one, focusing their efforts on the more lucrative smartphone and tablet market.

Sony Pocket Edition PRS-350




5012638c2537aThe second generation Pocket Edition was launched on August 2010. This was the first modern line of Sony readers to adopt E-Ink Pearl, which provided a better experience than the antiquated Vizplex technology.

The Pocket Edition continued to be Sony’s smallest ever Reader, clocking in at five inches. It hit the market cheaper than the previous PRS-300 at US$179. Unlike the first generation model it incorporated a touch screen, and two GB of Memory but lacked an SD Card Slot and does not support MP3 playback.

Sony PRS-650 Touch Edition




The Sony PRS-650 was released August 2010 and was announced at the same time as the touch-screen PRS-350. It is Sony’s mid-range device, priced at US$229. As the replacement for the PRS-600 model, it is Sony’s higher-scale, touch-screen edition of the reader. It has a similar interface to the PRS-350.

This reader was fully touch screen but brought back physical buttons, such as the settings, options, home and manual page turn keys.  The Touch Edition is a compact and lightweight e-book reader; responsive touch-screen interface with no glare or contrast issues; high-contrast E Ink Pearl display; zippier performance than its predecessor; integration with Sony e-book store; good battery life (up to two weeks); supports EPUB e-book standard, which allows for e-book downloads from libraries; audio playback; SD and Memory Stick Duo memory expansion slots.

Sony was unprepared for the Q4 demand for the 650 e-reader. There were a few key reasons why this model in particular is so hard to purchase anywhere in North America, UK, Australia and other countries. Sony in early December recently did a relaunch of their new e-readers in Japan.  This was the company’s second attempt to penetrate the often fickle Japanese market.  Sony actually diverted shipments from all over the world to Japan, creating an international scarcity.

Sony Daily Edition PRS-950



The PRS950 model of the Daily Edition was released August 2010 and adds Wi-Fi to the free 3G wireless access to the Sony eBook store. The Reader Daily Edition features a high contrast E Ink Pearl technology on its anti-glare touch screen. It is otherwise similar to the older PRS 900 model.

This was the last 7 inch model that Sony sold and many users still have this model in 2014. One of the downsides is that the 3G internet has been shut off, because Sony closed their bookstore in North America. The only way to be able to connect up to the internet and use the web-browser is to utilize your personal or public WIFI.  It retailed at the time for US$299.

Sony PRS-T1




The Sony PRS-T1 came out in  October 2011 and marked the first time Sony only released one new e-reader model. The T1 was also known as  the Reader Wi-Fi and was billed as the world’s lightest 6″ e-Reader with a glare-free, paper-like display designed for hours of comfortable reading, even in direct sunlight.

The big hyping factor behind the T1 was the new product design, that would shape the next two iterations of the PRS-T product line. It was the first Sony branded device to have built in WIFI to purchase books, magazines and newspapers at Sony Reader Store. Customers could also browse the internet with the built in browser. It also had a built in Overdrive APP, to allow customers to borrow books from the public library.

Sony adhered to the 2GB of memory size, which they found to be enough for your average user. They have also used the same resolution 800×600 that they employed for the last five  years.

The T1 was very internationally friendly with  12 Built-in Dictionaries with 2 English and 10 others, such as French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Italian.

Sony PRS-T2




The Sony PRS-T2 was released September 2012 and mirrored the PRS-T1 in almost every single way. One of the most striking differences was the home, settings and manual page turn keys. The T1 had long rectangular buttons, which was a bit unwieldy. The T2 has really small buttons that actually had a ton of torque, it made interacting with them more intuitive and made the device more streamlined.

One of the big deals Sony trumpeted was their business relationship with Evernote. You could save your notes, highlights and annotations directly to your Evernote account, which made students and academics lives a bit easier. The average person really did not care and the T2 update really felt like the iPhone 4 and the 4S, in terms of a very incremental update, not really needed.

Sony PRS-T3




The Sony PRS-T3 is the most current generation commercial reader that is still being sold online and in many retail stores. Currently it has no built in store, but a firmware update will be adding the Kobo Store as an avenue to purchase content.

The Sony T3 was released September 2013 and bypassed the US to be launched in Canada, then the UK, Europe and Australia. This was the first true high-resolution e-readers that mirrored what Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo were doing at the time. 1024×758 is currently the gold standard for e-Reader resolution and it is hard for text to be anymore crisp.

Sony sold two different versions of the T3 e-reader line, the second many just came with a case and reading light, it was an extremely limited release, mainly just in Canada.

Sony Digital Paper




The Sony 13.3 inch e-Reader is going to usher in a brand new era of high quality e-Paper that allows for a true PDF experience. Sony has exclusivity over this brand new technology called Mobius, which they developed with e-Ink.

The screen itself is quite respectable in terms of resolution and pixel density. The resolution on the display is 1200×1600 with 150 PPI. The main attraction is using the active digitizer and interacting with complex PDF documents. You can edit documents by jotting down your own handwritten notes, or even highlight passages to go back to later.  You may elect to save your notes as independent files, which makes referencing them in the future easier.

The large screen display will simply give you the best PDF experience you have ever had on an e-reader. I have personally reviewed over 83 different e-readers since launching Good e-Reader in 2009, and this was the first one to give me a quality PDF experience. It is only available at two online retailers, both who have been sold out for over a month.  You can take your luck with Amazon, who sell  it for a cool $1400.00.

Wrap Up

Sony was once the most dominant player in the e-reader revolution and was the primary mover in selling hardware and eBooks. Rising competition from small companies such as Pocketbook, Onyx and Ectaco slowly whittled away market share in Western and Eastern Europe. North America and the UK saw Amazon, B&N and Kobo take them to the cleaners and eroded the profitability of the e-reader division.

Sony now intends on only marketing their phones and tablets and has given up on e-readers. The company has signed a longterm agreement with Kobo, to have their eBook app preloaded on any future Sony branded Android device. Each book customers purchase will pay Sony a small commission, similar to how Kobo cuts in indie bookstores all over the world.

The current e-reader industry would not be where they are today if it weren’t for Sony. The made one of the first mainstream touch screen e-readers and the best with LED lights to read in the dark. The 3G Daily edition inspired Barnes and Noble to offer a similar service with their first Nook 3G model. Sony may have lost their shine, but historically very significant to a billion dollar publishing industry.

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Neonode is best known for their IR touchscreen technology that mainstream e-readers employed, before most of them gravitated towards capacitive touch. The Amazon Kindle Touch, Kobo Glo, Sony PRS-T1 and similar models all employed Infrared sensors alongside the bezel. This provided these companies a dramatically affordable way to incorporate touchscreen technology into e-readers that were at war with each other over lower prices. The rise and fall of Neonode reads like a textbook of the e-reader industry as a whole.

Neonode is a publically traded company and files all of their financial information on a quarterly and yearly basis with the SEC. Their accounts receivable info reads like a textbook on the rise and fall of the e-reader industry. In 2010 the company garnered a paltry $200 thousand and the companies fortunes spiked dramatically in 2011 with over $3.3 million in licensing fees. Revenue dropped by over a million in 2012 when they earned $2.1 million and in 2013 they received $1 million.

This yearly financial returns are not indicative to just the eBook reader industry, as they have their hands in cell phones, tablets and a number of other enterprises. When it comes to e-readers in 2011 they had eleven contracts signed with the whos who of industry. This included the Sony Pocket Edition, Sony Touch Edition, Daily and the PRS-T1 model. Other notables include the Kobo eReader Touch and Barnes & Noble Simple Touch Reader. In 2012 Amazon accounted for 46% of their revenue, followed by Kobo at 16% and Sony at 14%. During 2013 Neonode lost Amazon as their primary customer and instead is leaning on Kobo (19%) Leapfrog (16%) and Sony (15%) for their e-reader revenue. Finally in the first quarter of 2014, Leap Frog is their biggest customer (30%) followed by Sony Corporation (16%) and older Kobo devices (11%).

Kobo is using their older Glo and Touch Screen e-readers in their efforts to expand into international markets, because of the lower price point on outdated components. Sony on the other hand have all but bowed out of the e-reader industry with the total abandonment of their Sony Reader bookstore in North America, Europe and Australia, but still sell the PRS-T3 in many retail environments. Leapfrog primarily sells kids tablets in retail stores like Toys R US and bigbox stores.

Neonode Z-Force technology is currently being phased out by many of the other eBook vendors in the world. Amazon, Kobo, and Tolino are all employing capacitive touchscreen technology and therefore not paying Neonode licensing fees. The lack of income is not stopping them from spending $1.8 million in the last three months, compared to $1.6 million for the same period in 2013. This has led to contracts with HP for multisense touchscreen printers and developing patents for virtual keyboards.

What is the future of Neonode in the e-Reader industry? Likely they are abandoning innovation in this sector and instead are focusing on zForce AIR Technology for phones, zForce NEMO Technology for 100% Waterproof Devices and MultiSensing technology for in-car systems.

Categories : E-Paper, Feature Stories
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Kobo has been making e-readers since 2010 and diversified into tablets in 2011. Their earliest e-ink devices were fairly basic and through dedication to reading their latest models are very solid. Today, we look at the evolution of the Kobo brand and how their e-Readers have changed overtime.

The Kobo e-Reader




The first Kobo e-Reader became available in Canada and the US on May 1 2010. It featured a 6 inch with a  resolution of 600 x 800 pixels. This translates to a display pixel density of 170 (dpi), which is quite impressive at the time. It did not have WIFI or a built in store. Customers were encouraged to load in their own books manually, which hampered its ability to compete against Amazon. The pricing strategy of the original Kobo, at USD$ 149, was to rival the Amazon Kindle, which was USD$ 110 more expensive.  However, in June 2010, just after the Kobo was released, Amazon dropped the price of the Kindle to USD$189.

Chapters Indigo was an early investor of Kobo, contributing close to $150 million to assist them in developing e-readers and an online bookstore.

The Kobo WIFI




The Kobo WIFI edition was released on October 15th 2010. This was only a few months after the original Kobo e-Reader launched and the company had to bow to customer demands to buy eBooks right on the device.  It featured a slightly improved processor and support for a 32 GB SD Card. This marked the first time Kobo experimented with different colors, offering a white, black and lilac version with a quilted cover on the back.

The e-reader visually was a carbon copy of their first e-reader. It had a rather flimsy D-Pad that was used to navigate settings menus. It also had physical buttons all over the unit.  The addition of wireless internet access allowed people to buy books from Kobo directly, which simplified the process.

When I reviewed this unit the week it came out I summarized “The one drawback of this device, is that it feels sluggish and unresponsive when you are navigating all of the menus and eBook store. You might click down, and it won’t refresh for over 8 seconds. This makes it so you end up double clicking, then your e-reader will jump menu to menu or screen to screen. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of both iterations of the Kobo reader. For us, its a deal breaker.”

The Kobo Touch


The Kobo Touch was released in June 2011 and was the first time a touchscreen was employed in a Kobo e-reader. The Touch had a resolution of 800×600, which was the exact same as prior models. When it came to interacting with the screen, things were slightly more robust with the inclusion of an e Ink Pearl display.

Aside from the touchscreen which was the major selling point of the Touch, a number of software improvements were quite evident.  Kobo really marketed their new social media platform called Reading life.  It allowed you to share book passages via Twitter and Facebook.  It also gives you statistics of your reading patterns, how much you read, how often, and how many books you have read. There was also a reward system where you earned badges and achievements for reading.

When the Touch first came out my summary of the hardware review stated “Kobo hit a homerun with the Kobo Touch due to the quality build design and the robust functionality! I had the original Kobo e-Reader and the Kobo Wireless. This model seriously puts those two to shame! The touchscreen display should be easier for your average user to wrap their heads around, since almost all hand held mobile devices are touch screen. I found the older Kobo models to have flimsy design and the DPAD was awful, not to mention you would hit a key and 12 seconds later the command would go through. I hardly experienced ANY LAG at all when using this e-reader extensively.

The Kobo Glo




The Kobo GLO was released in September of 2012. This was the first e-reader that really really hit the mainstream. It surpassed their prior models in responsiveness and design. The big selling point was the illuminated display screen, which borrowed a page of the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight and the Kindle Paperwhite.

The Kobo Glo eliminated all physical buttons and relied in a capacitive touchscreen with a resolution  of 1024 x 758.. This marked the first major advancement in resolution, which really made text and PDF files look amazing. It was hampered a bit by the same processor  used on the Kobo Touch, a year prior. Kobo also amped up the processor, which raised it to 1 GHZ, over the 800 MHZ of the Touch model.

When this first came out, my review summarized “This e-reader feels like a modern device and has solid hardware. The back of the unit has a different quilted pattern than previous models. Advanced users may dig the fact that there is a ton of control over your reading experience and it allows you to load in your own fonts. The Kobo development team is also fairly active on the MobileRead forums and often directly answers questions and employs many people in testing out beta firmware builds. They also use this fiendishly obsessed e-Reader community to farm ideas on future features they might employ in automatic firmware updates.”

The Kobo Mini





The Kobo Mini was originally launched the exact same day as the Kobo Glo at the first major unveiling Kobo produced in Toronto. In 2012 Kobo really stepped up their promotional and marketing campaign as the intention was to be the #2 ereader and eBook company in the world, next to Amazon.

The Mini bucked the trend of the standard six inch e-Reader and instead went with a more pocket friendly five inch model. It used e Ink Vizplex technology and had a resolution of  of 800×600 pixels. Underneath the hood was a 800 MHZ processor, which was the exact same as the Kobo Touch employed years prior.

The intention behind the Mini was to offer a cheap and cheerful device at $99 and was discounted heavily during its lifecycle to $29.99.  When the e-reader first came out I mentioned “It will be interesting to see how the market responds to a strongly marketed five inch ereader. For the last four years all of the major players have released six inch or larger e-readers. Other companies have released smaller models, but never saw any traction because of poor retail distribution channels and brand awareness. The Kobo Mini is one of the best bangs for your buck if you are on a budget and still want a fully featured e-reader. The company does a great job in appealing to international customers, something the other major players don’t do very well. Most lock you into specific regional variants of their stores and exclude anyone living outside a specific geographical region.”

Kobo Aura HD


The new Kobo Aura HD e-reader.


The Kobo Aura HD was billed as a limited edition e-reader that was released April 25th 2013.  It featured a 6.8 inch screen with a tremendous resolution  of 1440×1080 with 265 ppi. The front-lite technology also received an elevated boost and put Kobo on par with Kindle in terms of screen technology. 

The Aura HD was a runaway success and quickly accounted for 25% of Kobos international hardware sales. Readers loved the fact they had almost an extra inch to read their eBooks, magazines, newspapers or PDF content.

One of the best aspects of the Aura HD was the responsive main menu. The new screen has three main segments that displays icons for everything you have done in the last 12 processes. This gives you shortcuts to your most commonly accessed features, such as the web-browser, custom shelves, Reading Life, and ebooks. The Sync feature to fetch new content is now on the main screen, too, which is the only element that remains persistent. I actually like the more effective use of screen real estate. Rather than browsing four different sub-menus to access the internet browser, it will appear on your main screen if you have recently used it.

When this first came out, I mentioned during my review “When it comes to high resolution displays, customers often gravitate towards full color tablets instead of e-readers. This has been the growing trend in the last few years, and it’s completely amazing to see a brand stay loyal and committed to its e-ink line of devices. Simply put, the Kobo Aura HD has the highest resolution out of any six or seven inch tablet or e-reader in the world. If images and clarity of text matter to you, this is a must purchase.”

The AURA HD is still currently the flagship e-reader from Kobo and is currently my favorite dedicated e-reader on the market. It taps into an ecosystem of over 3 million eBooks and is relevant in every major country in the world. Simply put, this was the best, most complete product Kobo produced in their entire company history.

Kobo Aura



Kobo Aura outdoor reading

In September 2013 Kobo released a six inch iteration  of the Kobo Aura. It featured a  6-inch e-ink ClarityScreen display with 1014×758 resolution, 16 level grey scale and a built-in LED front-light. It has 4 GB of storage, weighs 6.1 ounces, has 2 months of battery life, a Freescale i.MX507 1 GHz processor, and a microSD expansion slot.

Kobo employed a new PDF rendering engine in the Aura HD and the Aura. It allowed readers to have better navigation on the document by giving a small preview window to help keep you oriented.

When the Kobo Aura was released I stated “The Aura is amazing, one of the best e-readers ever released. One of the best features is the capacitive multi-touch display and the ability to really make reading shine. The screen is flush with the bezel and not sunken like every other e-reader currently on the market. The internet and PDF experience is the best you will get on a six inch device, trouncing Sony.”

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News Corp announced the purchase of Canadian based Harlequin from Torstar on May 2nd, 2014. The entire deal was a cash purchase of $455 million dollars and the romance publisher will be a division of HarperCollins. What does the future hold for readers of their beloved brand? Why was Harlequin even available to purchase in the first place? What is the future of digital and softcover titles?

Harlequin was originally purchased by TorStar in 1975 and saw massive success in their affordable softcover books that were a staple in bookstores, grocery stores and supermarkets all over North America. When you envision the quintessential title from Harlequin, often shirtless hunks abound. In the 1980s and early 1990’s Fabio was a household name.

What made Harlequin an attractive acquisition target? It was one of the most profitable aspects of TorStar Corp, a Canadian media company. It currently publishes 110 physical and digital books every single month. The books are translated into 30 different languages and available all over the world. They have 1300 authors signed to publishing contracts and over 1,000 employees worldwide. Obviously the romance genre is still very popular with 24 of the top 100 bestsellers in April belonging to Harlequin.

Why is Torstor selling the largest Romance company in the world? TorStar is seeing a decline in their entire portfolio, primarily due to the newspapers. It owns popular brands such as the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper, and a equity stake in The Canadian Press as part of a joint agreement with the parent companies of the Globe and Mail and Montreal La Presse. TorStar was seeing decreased revenue from their newspapers and will use 158.5 million to pay off their current debt.

“We think we did the right thing in exiting,” David Holland, president and CEO of Torstar, said during a conference call to discuss the sale. “While making the decision to sell was difficult, we are confident that this transaction represents excellent value for Torstar shareholders and importantly further strengthens Torstar’s financial position and capital base as we continue in our evolution as a company,” Holland told financial analysts.

Harlequin’s chief executive, Craig Swinwood, said that the publisher would remain based in Toronto, and that it would continue to operate as a “distinct and successful brand” within HarperCollins. Brian Murray Chief-Executive at HC echoed those sentiments, saying that the “Harlequin rich name and heritage will be preserved independently.”

Harlequin as a company was stagnating under the ownership of Torstar. In 2009 they saw $493 million in revenue, $468 million in 2010, $459 million in 2011, and $426 million in 2012. One of the reasons the company was losing money was the decline of the softcover book and the rise of the eBook. In 2007 the big decline started when paperback sales took a 2% dip, bringing in a staggering $1.1 billion dollars. The landslide of decreased revenue continued, plummeting 68% from 2007 until 2013. Now, the entire softcover industry worldwide is $373.1 million.

One of the bright spots of Harlequin was the early adoption of eBooks. They were one of the first companies to digitize their new titles in 2007 and their backlist in 2011. Their cade of Authors were kept happy with some of the highest royalty rates in the industry, around 30% of each book sold. They also started one of the first digital first imprints, Carina Press. This program allowed authors to forgo book advances to get a higher revenue earned on their books. The saved money helped Harlequin remain profitable and still give authors marketing attention.

HarperCollins intends on leveraging Harlequins team of translators and tap into their international distribution pipeline. 95% of all HC books are English only, which limits their market penetration. Romance readers are also voracious readers, with the average reader consuming almost 100 books a year.

It is important to note that Harlequin will be a division of HarperCollins and will be able to conduct business autonomously. Unlike the Penguin/Random House deal where the two sides actually merged together to now publish 1/4 of all books in the world.


The audiobook industry is starting to undergo dramatic shifts in their content delivery methods and major publishing companies are now investing millions of dollars into expensive productions. The entire audiobook industry is currently worth around 1.6 billion dollars and that figure should climb further. The main reason? Audio book producers have been increasing their output. 13,255 titles came out in 2012, up from 4,602 in 2009.

The main reason audiobooks are starting to appeal to more readers is because of the sheer amount of mobile devices and tablets available. It was not too long ago that you had to purchase an audio edition on CD and Cassette. You would often have to pay $60 to $100 for a fairly good audio edition and now the prices have plummeted to under $40. Currently, digital audiobooks now account for over 60% of all purchases made. “Everybody has an audio book player in their pocket at this point,” says Anthony Goff, vice president of Hachette Audio, where sales have jumped by 31% this spring over last. “It makes that much easier for the masses to try it.”

“It’s one of the few times in history that technology has reinvigorated an art form rather than crushing it,” said Max Brooks, author of the zombie novel “World War Z,” which was released in May ahead of the Brad Pitt movie in an elaborate new audio edition with 40 cast members, including Alan Alda, John Turturro, and Martin Scorsese. It sold 60,000 CDs and digital-audio copies. “Now, because there is such demand and the production value is so inexpensive, it opens the door for more creative storytelling.” he said.

The most dominant content distribution platform for audiobooks currently is Amazon owned Audible. This company has the highest market penetration and has seen a 33% increase in sales in 2012. They have created over 26,000 audiobooks and adding close to 1,000 titles a month. Most of their success derives from their new technologies that allow readers a myriad of options. If you purchase both the audiobook and eBook you can have the book professionally narrated to you, as you are reading. Else, you can read a few chapters on your Kindle and pick up exactly where you left off on the audio edition. This type of synergy is fairly compelling for people who read at night and do things during the day. Matthew Thornton of Audible commented – “We’re seeing heavy growth among younger listeners, people in and getting out of college who are part of the emerging app culture.”

The creation of audiobooks are not only reserved for major publishing companies, but many others provide some low-cost options to get going. Audible offers the most expansive creation suite of tools for authors to get massive distribution and gain solid royalties. Indie companies are also making it easy for authors to create their own audiobooks. The most notable are www.acx.com and www.voices123.com who drive down the cost of audiobook production.

Audiobooks are normally synonymous with being a mirrored replica of the print edition. This is starting to shift, as publishers are starting to experiment with audio exclusive content. The Wall Street Journal recently talked a company called AudioGo, whom has produced about 25 works exclusively for audio, including “Baseball Forever,” a remix of radio broadcasts of some of the top moments in the history of baseball. One of their most successful is a property entitled “Dreadtime Stories,” a collection of original horror stories, and a series of apocalyptic zombie stories. They have also resurrected old fashioned radio plays and hired actor Val Kilmer to play Zorro in an audio dramatization titled “The Mark of Zorro.”

Audiobook consumption is certainly increasing and many pundits are debating on how this may adversely effect the way we consume literature. Print purists doubt that listening to a book while multitasking delivers the same experience as sitting down and silently reading. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that for competent readers, there is virtually no difference between listening to a story and reading it.

There are a few unknown factors when it comes to multitasking, while listening to an audiobook. People who commute to work make up nearly 1/2 of all audiobook listeners and studies are still ongoing on how much is retained with not having 100% focus. Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who has studied reading and listening comprehension, said that multitasking compromises a listener’s attention, unless the task is truly automatic. Jogging on a treadmill would probably be fine, but running on a trail might be too distracting to fully absorb the text, he said.

In the end, the audiobook industry is enjoying a boom period and is consistently increasing their market share. Customers have gravitated to digital downloads, instead of tangible goods. More companies are offering professional services to assist indie authors with getting an audio edition of their book out there and Audible continues to dominate the sales channels. Stay tunes for our next feature, as we look into the best companies out there to help indie authors get an audiobook made for them.

Sony 13.3 inch e-Reader

The Sony 13.3 inch e-Reader is going to usher in a brand new era of high quality e-Paper that allows for a true PDF experience. Sony has exclusivity over this brand new technology they created and worked on, in conjunction with e INK. On the first day of SID Display Week, we were walked through some of the core features, but was that really enough? We received hundreds of emails, comments and messages asking us to look deeper into what this has to offer, we have heard your pleas, and will show you mercy. I won’t rehash the specs of the hardware, you can read all about it HERE. There are some very exciting elements to this device, that no one but us has managed to capture.

The PDF experience is the main attraction of the 13.3 inch e-Reader and gives you a true, full page experience. Obviously you can take notes and make annotations by either writing with the stylus or the full virtual keyboard. If you make a note, you can save that page as an independent file. If you have a big PDF document and make all sorts of edits, you can save it as a “Workspace” into its own PDF document. This insures you have your virgin file, with no edits and then your changed document with all of your notes.

If you have a large document with many notes, you can actually initiate a new feature that will allow you to look up all of the notes or changes you made on the document. A search feature will bring up a list on the right hand side, listing every single change you have ever made. If you tap on any of them, the page will open.

There was some confusion over the Stylus or Digitizer that came bundled with the Sony 13.3 inch e-Reader. Some people were saying the screen would not work without it and there was an air of uncertainty. I found out that you can do everything via touch. The stylus is useful for drawing notes or making changes. You can turn the pages and interact with every single menu with your hand. There is a small button on on the stylus, that acts as an eraser. Click on a body of text or notes, and you can delete it.

There is a nice fully featured internet browser, that is accessible via a WIFI connection. Browsing the internet does not cause a massive amount of page-refresh issues, that normally plague lower-end devices. This might be perfect for people who check news websites, such as Good e-Reader!

e Ink was very clear that the firmware and overall design might change on the commercial release. I noticed it did not currently have EPUB support, which means you will not be able to load in your own books. Likely, we will see Sony’s own eBook store loaded on the device, and will allow users to purchase eBooks directly from their regions store. Currently Sony has been opening a number of new online stores in Europe, UK, Australia and many other markets. It would make sense for them to incorporate this into their technologies.

Currently, the prototype is at many different events during the next few months. Sony is listening to peoples opinions and incorporating changes into the firmware and hardware. My suggestions were to hot-key the stylus eraser button to do different things. As an example, it would be nice to turn to the next page with a click. I also suggested the ability to pinch and zoom. It seems that you cant make the fonts any larger or increase your zoom levels. This would be essential, as some people prefer bigger fonts or like to focus on specific bits of information.

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