In Australia, Borders had also sold out of its e-reader, the Kobo, within three weeks of bringing it to market in store and online in May- the same week the much-hyped Apple iPad arrived here and found its way into the hands of a hefty number of e-book pioneers.
Sony, which has sold e-readers in other markets since 2006, will enter the fray in Australia this year too.
According to Malcolm Neil, group communications manager for RedGroup Retail, the corporate entity behind Borders and Angus and Robertson, the Kobo e-reader (now back in stock) is in its top 10 items in terms of sales. RedGroup has sold into the tens and tens of thousands of e-books since late May, with around 60 per cent of those sales coming through their application for the iPad and iPhone, and 40 per cent through their website. They’re currently selling more e-book editions of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy than print, and Neil estimates the company’s e-book turnover is between around $8 million and $10 million, and doubling each month.
Meanwhile, Dutch company Endless Ideas BV’s BeBook e-ink devices have been available in Australia since late 2007, and can be bought online through Australian distributor R&D Media Group (at BeBook.net.au) or over the counter at Co-op bookstores.
While the Kindle is proprietary to and subsidised by Amazon, the BeBook allows you to read just about any e-book file (or even a plain old Word document saved as .txt) regardless of its source.
Having no built-in content delivery system, it allows a technically proficient user greater control of file management and downloads, but the less tech savvy user may find it cumbersome to operate in contrast to the iPad, Kindle and Kobo.
Like the Kindle and Kobo, the BeBook devices feature e-ink screens that look like the printed page. R&D Media Group product manager Harold Wiegers says the BeBook is a premium e-reader and to date mostly sold online.
”We would like to offer more bookstores the option of selling the BeBook range,” he says, ”But they are more likely to start selling them when they have been given the option of selling e-books [themselves].”
Many Australian independent booksellers are hoping to do just that within months, but they await a decision by Australian publishers as to how e-books will be distributed. The Australian Publishers Association was due to issue a statement on this last week once its board had approved a set of recommendations.
The arrival of the Kindle has created ”a huge awareness in electronic reading and has helped us in gaining more traction with the BeBook range”, Wiegers says. ”The iPad only allows ‘apps’ for proprietary bookstores and does not support open EPUB [open source] books, but it helps creating awareness for electronic reading.”
“The Kobo reader has been the killer for independent Australian bookstores to start with BeBook or other readers.”
The top of the range Bebook Neo costs $569 (the smaller BeBook One costs $449 and the BeBook Mini $389) and comes with a USB cable and a quickstart guide. Its controls are in the centre of the front panel, below the screen, for easy access to both thumbs. Unlike the iPad, Kindle and Kobo, it also features a stylus for easy navigation and note-taking.
Wiegers says partners like the Co-op find the annotations capability appeals to students.
Surfing the net on the BeBook is nowhere near as seamless as on the iPad, which offers the benefit of full colour and a larger screen in a similarly priced but also more visually appealing device. The device also features an MP3 player.
Once you’re up and running, the BeBook user can read books, newspapers, documents and websites, and view greyscale images. The Neo is similar to the basic Kindle in size, but nowhere near as sexy. The Kindle is sleeker, smoother, and more user-friendly, both in terms of the external appearance and its user interface.
The Wi-Fi device comes loaded with a 138-page User Guide and supports several e-book and document formats perhaps more than any other device. There are some 20,000 free ebooks for download at MyBeBook.com too.