eReaders 2011 Conference

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jetbook color

There is a battle brewing in the e-ink technology sphere and it is not in the American market, where over 75% of global e-reader sales take place. Instead, the newest version of reading is happening  in the Russian Educational system.

During our discussions with executives at e-Ink and Plastic Logic over the weekend at the first E-Readers Conference in San Francisco, we talked in detail on the war being waged. Away from prying eyes two major companies are vying for market position and trying to land lucrative contracts in Russia.

The Russian educational system is providing an old west style free for all, that is encouraging many tech companies to vie with important contracts. Recently a top level decision was made to digitize the Russian educational school system. This has promoted companies to vie for contracts to be one of the technologies used in thousands of schools. This obviously means it’s a very important race to be the one to garner over a hundred million in sales.

Right now in Russia many pilot programs are being launched with competing devices to find the right solution. Different tablets and e-readers who have firmware geared towards schools are jockeying for position.

The two most important companies who have the best chance in being selected have a tremendous amount of experience and a solid management team to make it happen. Both Plastic Logic and Ectaco are considered the front runners so far.

After 4 years of trials and tribulations, Plastic Logic cranked out their first official device that is aimed at the Russian educational school system. Plastic Logic CEO Indro Mukerjee officially debuted the electronic textbook at an event held at the Moscow Planetarium during a visit by British Trade Minister Lord Green. The event, organized by RUSNANO and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), highlighted Plastic Logic as an example of the joint technology cooperation between the UK and Russia.

Plastic Logic had a major investment partner earlier on in the  year from a Russian company looking to make a play at the educational market. Currently Plastic Logic has a Research and Development business in California, an office in Cambridge, a manufacturing plant in Dresdon Germany and an upcoming major factory in Russia. It is the plant in Russia that warranted the investment to create jobs, but more importantly to play an important role in why Plastic Logic should be selected. After all, it is an compelling case during negotiations that the device is made in Russia, for Russia.

The new Plastic Logic 100 is the new device they are testing right now and feels very polished. It uses a new technology that is neither LCD or eInk, it uses patented PlasticPaper. Because the base is not glass, the Plastic Logic 100 display is large, thin, lightweight and is uniquely shatterproof and rugged, which is especially important given constant use by students.

The new device sports a 10.7 inch shatter proof screen that reads like paper.  The resolution is 1280×960 and has 150 PPI! It has a capacitive IR touchscreen interface that makes interacting with it easier then most touchscreen e-ink devices. This is the same tech found in the new Kobo Touch Reader.  It has a 800 MHZ processor and 4 GB of internal storage. Battery life will last about a week of constant use, which is fairly solid.

The operating system and firmware is designed to be a students guide. It has all of the features of note taking, highlights, book reading and study guides to assist in this. The firmware is obviously evolving due to the constant feedback from the trial programs and is being polished.

Ectaco has been making e-readers for a number of years normally aimed at the end user. Due to the competition in the retail sphere the company is changing their business model to be more education based. This has prompted the company to launch their own Jetbook K12 e-reader that is aimed specifically at the education market. It is meant to be used by students from Grade 1 to 12 and has a myriad of options to make it student friendly. It has many books and firmware to maximize the effectiveness of a device made for schools. They have also purchased the rights to the Hanvon Color e-ink reader to distribute it in Russia. This is the new breed of e-ink Triton which mimics paper and gives thousands of colors and offers high resolution for books and images.

Ectaco is making a play with a color and non-color device aimed at various levels of the educational system. The K12 is for highschool and middle school while the Jetbook Color is aimed at higher learning environments.

I have had the pleasure of having hands on time with both of these devices and Ectaco has a more refined operating system and firmware enhancements directed at students. In retrospect, I see Plastic Logic as having better quality technology and their devices feel more polished and hightech.

What about the international market such as the USA, Canada, and the UK? Where do they fall into the plans to get their hands on Color e-ink technology? Both Plastic Logic and Ectaco stress that Russia is the critical market and will determine whether they have enough resources to penetrate markets that have more money to spend but are harder to break into.

Daren Benzi, an Executive Director at Plastic Logic, mentioned that the reason why they are focusing on Russia and not other markets is because of the “Top Down” approach. Russia on the highest level of government mandated that they want to digitize the school system with tablets or e-readers to conserve on money in the longer term. This means there is lots of money, set in stone, to be allocated to the companies who win the bids. When you look at the American educational market it is not “top down.” You have specific schools wanting to make the change, and maybe specific districts, but never entire states or the country wanting to update.

A few months ago, Mercy Pilkington interviewed Governor Rick Scott of Florida about his proposition to implement e-readers and tablets in all of the classsrooms in Florida. “The decision on what devices to use will be left to school districts, with advice and technical assistance from the Florida Department of Education,” says Press Secretary Lane Wright. “The law allows districts to decide how they’re going to use the money required for digital learning materials, starting in 2015-2016. Districts will decide on which subjects and grade levels. Initially, school districts will only be required to begin buying digital instructional materials using 50% of the funds allocated by the state for instructional materials in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.”

Although specific states in the USA might be making moves to gravitate towards a digital experience, it is not a sure bet. If Rick Scott does not make it into another term in office, this bill can be shot dead. Until digital readers are decided upon, on a Federal level, most companies will focus on markets that already have these things decided from the higher reaches of government.

If Color e-ink by way of Ectaco and new tech from Plastic Logic are not in the cards anytime soon, where does that leave the market that wants color in their e-reading experience? When we met with executives from Liquavista and Mirasol over the last few days, they told me that we will see devices by the end of the year using their technology. Although both use different types of technology that is not e-ink, remember e-ink Holdings is a company offering screen technology found in the Kindle, Kobo, and Sony e-readers of the world. It is popular, of course, but there are other avenues available that been in development for quite some time and could eat away at e-Ink’s market share if marketed correctly.

Samsung recently acquired Liquavista earlier this year and this is why we have not seen their new Electrowetting technology in any products to date. I was told that “anytime you are acquired there is a always a long delay in manufacturing and management changes.” Obviously Samsung has perhaps one of the strongest companies in the world in terms of “the total package.” They make their own screens and components, and sell their items under their own banner. We could prospectively see some mighty new products from Liquavista that give us better resolution than e-ink and draw even less power, giving us longer battery life.

Mirasol based technology is another alternative that is coming soon and is developed in conjunction with Qualcomm. You might have heard a while back that Mirasol and Freescale had teamed up for an e-reader which was all over the news. When we spoke with Cheryl Goodman, who is in charge of Publisher Relations at Mirasol, she said that the e-reader was just proof of a concept to test the new chipset in their designs. It was never meant to be marketed.

The specialty of the Mirasol display technology is that the display does not depend on backlight, but instead uses the ambient lighting for it to show text on screen. In this respect, the Mirasol display can be considered similar to e-ink screens, though that’s where the similarity ends. While e-ink screens have the advantage of low power requirements, they suffer from the disadvantage of being unable to render color displays or support moving pictures. This is not so with the Mirasol screens, which can handle both.

The e-Reader space is too competitive for Plastic Logic and Ectaco to make a play for the Western European and North American Markets. So many companies have tried and failed to make an impress on a fickle market that is obsessed with Nooks, Kindles, and iPads. Many people wonder why color e-ink or color displays on e-readers are not a reality here at home. Hopefully this article has shared some insight on why the two companies are not ready to bring it over here yet on a commercial level.

At the first annual e-Readers conference in San Francisco, we met up with Kurt Petersdorff the Commercial Director of Liquavista! During the conference he gave us an interview and talked about the future of Liquavista technology and how his company was effected with the Samsung investment in his company earlier this year.

The essence of Electrowetting technology is that it is highly scalable as the e-reader and tablet market has gravitated from small screens to displays exceeding 10 inches. From a manufacturing point of view, it is easy for existing LCD plants to incorporate Electrowetting into its process. It is basically the same entire procedure to create the screen, except instead of using Liquid Crystals they use a different fill.  One of the huge benefits of Liquavista technology is that it is flexible, which means it is a much more robust surface. This is much akin to the same type of display that Plastic Logic uses in their new e-reader and there is a famous video online of two guys hitting each other over the head with it and the glass not breaking. If you ever have dropped an iPad or a iPhone you know the LCD glass breaks rather easily because it is NOT FLEXIBLE.

The below video outlines the full presentation Kurt made at the conference and I got a chance to talk to him about their relationship with Freescale and exactly what happened with the e-reader they had a prototype for. We then find out about their greyscale technology and color offerings.  We also get a surprise conversation with Mirasol and Liquavista.

Zinio is one of the most successful online digital magazine companies in the world! We caught up with Matthew Davis the VP of User Experience at the recent E-Reader Conference in San Francisco! At Zinio Matthew is principally charged with evolving the utility, form and beauty of Zinio’s international newsstand and bookstore. Matthew served at Zinio from almost the very beginning and was instrumental in the inaugural iPad launch that substantiated the company and thrust it into the limelight.

Zinio is one of the preimier magazine companies and they have relationships with some of the largest companies such as Conde Nast. The success of Zinio is attributed to the sheer amount of iPad sales which propelled the app into the top selling news app on the App Market. The entire time is passionate about the art form of the magazine and Matthew has been a fan of magazines and used to decorate his walls with clippings from old skate zines.

Before the iPad launch the company had a few early prototypes of the tablet that were chained to the desk and surrounded by indestructible glass to protect them and prevent theft. The challenge facing the company in February 2010, six weeks before the iPad launch was to build a fully functioning app, port over 2400 titles and make 7 of them flagship quality. The initial team of 24 people had their work cut out for them and the entire team lived in a small office for the duration of the entire six weeks.

Some of the early challenges the company faced was a common language barrier so the programmers could understand the designers and everyone could be on the same page. There is a deep lexicon of jargon in both the magazine and publishing world and it was a challenge getting everyone to speak the same language. After this process they had to laugh at big companies and publishers such as Wired where the coders and designers have never even spoke before.

Designing the application was fraught with challenges because it was a new frontier and the entire gesture system had to be done from scratch but also be intuitive and beautiful. There was a new paradigm with touchscreen navigation with both portrait and landscape mode. Some magazines wanted different ways to scroll through the magazine. For example for Wired they wanted to scroll down to go through different pages within the same article and to gesture left and right to go through the different articles.

During the conference speech Matthew talked about some of the challenges the company has faced during the entire iPad process and how it has changed the company. They went from a small design firm to having 2 major company headquarters in North America and Satellite sales offices all over the world.

During the e-Readers 20111 Conference in San Francisco we met with Cheryl Goodman, a self-proclaimed surfer girl from San Jose! Cheryl is the Senior Director of Publisher Relations at Qualcomm. In this role she is responsible for forging connections in the publishing industry. Primarily she is trying to secure content for a new breed of Mirasol based technologies.

She gave an overview of what Qualcomm was doing with Mirasol based screen technology and gave a general overview of what it is all about. She went on to give us some great indications on how it looks on e-readers and tablets! She finished with giving us a timeline on when the first Mirasol based devices are going to hit the market in 2011.

Americans Love E-Readers which creates a global trend

• Distinct markets for e-readers, tablets – Just as Video didn’t kill TV, tablets won’t kill e-readers
• US adult e-reader purchases doubled (Pew) – a trend that is projected to continue.
• All devices will be connected, content is key but publishers must retrofit to the new medium and manage the sustainable of their strategic digital bets ( apps development, revenue sharing with digital partners with broad channels)
• It’s a Reading Revolution! Digital Books sale are up
%60 says the Korea Publisher Association – reconfirming
the global trend.

kindle fire

During our conference trip in San Francisco we befriended an excellent chap from iSupply! He mentioned one of the ways his company determines the core price a product costs to manufacture and release is by a comprehensive tear down. The units are often disassembled and based on each component it can be researched down to the exact cost per component. Today iSupply issued a press release stating that the new Amazon Kindle Fire costs $209.63 to manufacture and entail ALL costs involved.

Amazon is releasing their first Android powered tablet dubbed ‘Fire’ and is set to sell millions of units from November to December. The most attractive aspect of the device is obviously the price point and hits the sweet spot for  most customrs wanting a to buy a tablet. One of the drawbacks of the entire tablet sector are the prohibitive costs involved, with the T-Mobile G-Slate charging $799 and most others costing $499 to $899 for a good one.

Amazon is losing money on the hardware by selling its tablet for $199, taking a $10 hit loss on each one sold. The company is betting that it will make the money back in short order by selling content. Services such as Amazon Prime are bundled with the tablet and users are given a 1 month free subscription to check it out. This will provide shipping discounts with buying products from the website and offer streaming video services. Magazines, eBooks and an emerging Netflix-esque subscription system are other options.

We are at the first annual e-reader conference in San Francisco and we were privy to a round table discussion on eBooks with three stalwart gentlemen. Joining us is executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, Paul Michaelman. Also Mike Robinson the eBook Sales and Marketing Manager of Oxford University Press and finally Rob Burns Sr. Director Software Manager of Ebsco Publishing.

Today these fine men discuss a myriad of subjects pertaining to ebooks and the present state of digital publishing and what strategies the companies are employing to deliver the next generation of content.

Doug Klein originally cut his teeth working on old school terminals and communication systems before joining Barnes and Noble. Since joining the company and meeting with CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos 10 years before the Amazon Kindle was created and saw the tremendous growth of the Nook line of e-readers.

The Nook group at Barnes and Noble was top secret when it launched in 2009 and the department was built completely from scratch. It grew from 0 to 100 employees during the course of only 1 year and saw the release of the original Nook 3G. He mentioned that the Nook went from 0% to controlling 30% of the entire e-reader market and within six months the Nook had a million users.

Doug saw the entire e-reader sphere moving from mass market awareness to mass market consumption. If you look at the holiday season last year, sales went through the roof. This is why the company is paying attention to Amazons recent release of three new e-readers and a tablet and are prepapring their own offerings to be announced soon.

The Nook Color was the most successful product the company put forth to date and saw the entire paradigm of the of the color e-reading experience change. It moved from exclusively reading books to the rise and popularity of magazines. Barnes and Noble has been signing many publishing partners over the course of the last year and now offers 100’s of big name offerings.

Doug Klein said that mobile computing via e-readers and tablets are growing expodentially. He mentioned that Barnes and Noble sees 15% of all web traffic to coming from mobile devices and his IT department has said that it will increase to 60% over the course of the next few years.

He arbitrutes the success of the Nook line of e-readers and Nook Color primarly to the female demographic. This in turn due to sheer sales has made the line of devices the most successful Android driven device to date.

We asked him what were the key points of success with their business model and the Nook e-readers. He responded with proclaiming they are all about content discovery. “Bookstores are discovery engines, there is a reason why stores are laid out the way they are. With racks of magazines at the back to drive traffic through the store. From staff picks to our coffee shops and their exact positions are all meticulously thought out.

What about the recently announced Amazon Fire and the Nook Color? He said that the Fire is more about streaming services and Amazon Prime while Barnes and Noble is more focused on Magazines and programs like NookKids.

e-reader newspaper

We met with Nikolay Malyarov of Newspaper direct at the first annual e-readers conference in San Francisco. It seems a large percentage of the user base has transcend from traditional mediums such as newspapers, television, print to an online base. He makes the claim that e-readers are being used more to provide medium consumption.

Newspapers have been trying to figure out where they fit in the ever changing landscape since the advent of the internet. Radio, Television and other mediums have been heralded as a way to kill newspapers but a large percentage of people only started to make the switch when mobile computing started to gain prevalence. They have been very slow to adopt to mobiles such as tablets and e-readers and who is going to come out on top.

A newspaper that has just been a newspaper for many years is having to transcend to being on many different platforms. Applications such as Pulse breed a new way of reading content and market share is being taken away from newspapers.

Mobile access is slated to overcome desktop access in a couple of years. 42% of UK publishers now believe mobile is the best platform to charge users for content and 94% favor tablets and e-readers to consume the content. Newspapers have to adapt to a digital landscape on a more serious level because 75% of all Americans have a mobile device and 60% of all users read newspapers online. News companies know users will pay for content but the million dollar question is how they package it and deliver it. Publishers are having one hell of a time trying to find ways to eliminate inefficiencies to survive and make the digital shift. The big problem is deciding what platform to favor such as webOS, IOS, Android, Blackberry, HTML5, CSS3 and many more options.

The Wallstreet Journal recently conducted a poll and only a small percentage of users were reading an exact replica of the newspaper and a large number of people were reading extra content. Such as the same author writing on his own blog or authors citing his article in their own blog with more extra information. Remember, newspapers are limited by word-count on most news items and online based writers have no such limitations.

Newspapers are then finding that providing exact replicas of their print edition for their online version is not working that well. This is because users who read online are used to articles that have more sources credited and have more information on the specific subject matter and are much more specialized. For example a newspaper may only have a travel section once a week where you can find specialized blogs or news sources that write 4 to 6 articles a day on the same subject matter. From the normal PC experience it was not until the iPad that users migrated en masse from traditional print publishing. While Android was slowly cutting into Apples share, it is miniscule in comparison. Newspaper companies are starting to battle back with incentives to purchase a specific tablet that comes pre-loaded with their official application and their partners.

Philadelphia recently introduced a tablet for $99 for a 2 year subscription that allowed you to keep it at the end of your subscription. This has prompted other companies to consider following in the same footsteps. If you know your audience is not tech savvy, as in the case of the general e-readers and tablets market you can give the device away in an attempt to reach the digital audience. There is also a new model such as the Globe and Mail in Canada where you have a 1 subscription and all device. If you take out a newspaper subscription you get access to it via the iOS, Android and other platforms. There is also bonus content available in order to provide a reason to use the mobile app if you just like to read newspapers. While the New York Times does rather well with its paywall and online/print subscription service. In the end, newspaper companies are feeling the bite with a large departure of its traditional audience as they have gravitated to blogs and specialized websites. The big question is what they have to do in order.

e-readers conference

Hey everyone! We will be attending the 1st annual eReaders 2011 Conference in San Francisco September 29 and 30th! This will be an excellent chance for us to get exclusive info from Plastic Logic, Barnes and Noble, Kno, iSupply, and many other companies that will be attending!

The conference is being run by Intertech Pira and will occur at a hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf in sunny San Francisco! This is an event in which various keynote speakers will outline what their company will be doing in 2011 and 2012! We will be bringing all of the critical news and industry information right to you! All you have to do is keep on watching our blog and we will be posting pictures, video, audio, and breaking every piece of important information down!

This is a good optortonity for us to meet up with some of the movers and shakers in the digital publishing and eTextbook realm. We will be extensively covering this event during the full two days and make sure to check out our blog on Thursday and Friday of this week.  If you will be attending this event make sure to come and say HI!

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