April 22, 2009, 12:53 PM — Poor bookstores. As fewer people read books, those who do are getting lured by e-book readers that bypass bookstores for the majority of book purchases. Amazon's Kindle, now upgraded to Kindle 2, gets the biggest blame because it has the biggest market share. It also has a hefty hardware profit margin according to PCWorld's article “Amazon's $359 Kindle 2 Costs $185.49 to Build.”And you thought margins on technology hardware products were non-existent.
I'm not interested in the e-reader versus paper books arguments on readability, sensory advantages, or convenience. Those arguments have gone on for years already and will continue to go on many more years.
I'm more interested in what e-books are not doing. Publishers are not harnessing the power of their e-book readers, Kindle 2 or whatever, to enhance the reading experience in ways books can't touch.
Let's say you're reading a mystery novel and a character returns after three chapters of being elsewhere. Why can't you search for the character's name and find out when he or she first appeared? Why can't you hit the “help” button and see the paragraph introducing that character? Why can't you search for two characters and immediately go back to scenes they were in together?
Technical books and manuals should be e-book no-brainers, but I don't think they're taking advantages of the technology. Why wouldn't you want a car repair manual e-book that uses the Kindle 2's text to voice to read sections? Sure, the voice is lousy compared to audiobooks, but it beats getting grease all over your Kindle trying to find the diagram showing how to replace your water pump. Or cookbooks, or plumbing manuals, or sales manuals, or travel books, or your guide to making it through DisneyWorld without waiting in line? Those books should be e-books.
E-book publishers and e-book reader manufacturers would be far better served to think about providing bulky yet valuable information in a more convenient format. Now they're trying to replace a $6.99 paperback with a $359 gadget. No thanks. When I leave my book on an airplane by accident, I want to lose $6.99, not $359.