The iPod, Not the Kindle, May Be the “iPod of eBooks”

In August we wondered if the iPhone could kill Amazon’s eBook reader juggernaut, the Kindle. We noted predictions from Citi analyst Mark Mahaney that the Kindle would sell just shy of 400,000 copies by year’s end, due to a strong 4th quarter where it is expected to garner “must-have” status on many a Christmas wish list. Mahaney guessed that the Kindle would be Amazon’s iPod — or in other words, it would do for eBooks what the iPod did for MP3s.

Unfortunately for Amazon, it looks like it might actually the iPod (and iPhone) that will do for eBooks what the iPod did for MP3s.

jkOnTheRun points to a report in Forbes that indicates that Stanza, a free eBook reader application for the iPhone and iPod Touch has already been downloaded over 395,000 times, and is getting 5,000 downloads per day. That would make the iPhone + Stanza the leader in electronic book reader market share — and consider that in our August story we mentioned two other iPhone eBook readers (the free eReader and the pay Bookshelf), so the number of book readers on the iPhone is likely higher.

The iPhone + Stanza combination has some distinct advantages over the Kindle. First, the iPod Touch beats the Kindle on price — the cheapest iPod Touch (8GB) retails for $130 less than the Kindle. Second, the iPod has a full featured web browser, all those third-party applications, and is being touted as a next-gen handheld gaming device. Third, it’s also arguably better for audio books, since the Kindle can’t fit in your pocket. Fourth, the iPhone, of course, makes phone calls.

One of the biggest advantages that the Kindle has over the competition may be in danger of evaporating. Amazon’s biggest advantage over other eBook readers is the huge library of new releases that users have access to. The Kindle sales page notes that there are, “More than 180,000 books available, including more than 98 of 112 current New York Times® Best Sellers.” That’s something Stanza can’t offer, but according to Forbes, the company behind the iPhone app, Lexcycle, is working on deals with “several major publishers” to be announced at the beginning of next year.

And so far, it doesn’t seem like the public-domain only caveat is discouraging Stanza readers. Feedbook, the largest distributor of books for Stanza says users have downloaded more than 2 million titles — Amazon Kindle users, who also have access to Feedbooks, have swallowed up less than 40,000 by contrast. (And because Stanza supports just about every eBook format under the sun, theoretically, users could load up content for other eBook stores, like eBooks.com — though getting files onto the iPod can be tricky.)

So the only reason to choose the Kindle over the iPhone/iPod Touch really boils down to experience. If your goal is to read books, then which is better at just reading books? In August, readers here were split on the subject. The main selling point for the Amazon or Sony eBook readers seemed to be a superior screen and a more book-like form factor. But a large number of people thought that iPhone was a perfectly adequate reading device as well, and one that does a lot more than just read books.

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  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    I don’t think it’s a done deal either way yet.

    Kindle is a product designed to try to convert traditional book buyers into e-Book buyers. That’s a hard trick to pull off. It’s one thing for your dad to buy his books online — it’s quite another for him to read them there.

    iPhone users are already pretty much converted to the idea of buying and consuming content online via itunes. They buy music, they buy apps and games and podcast subscriptions… they are actively LOOKING for things to use their iPhone for, so seeing them highly represented in the early figures isn’t super surprising to me.

    Personally I use my iPhone for newspapers and blog content, but entire books? — don’t think I could do it. But then again, the largest selling book in Japan is apparently an e-novel targeted at young, tech-savvy women and read via their phone, so maybe the younger end of the market is developing in that direction.

    But to me, it still hinges on Amazon’s ability to make your mother want a kindle this Christmas.

  • Manas

    Josh,

    I have both a Kindle and an iPhone and I completely disagree with you.

    You may think reading in iPhone/iPod Touch or other LCD screen devices are good until you use an eBook reader (Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader or others) first-hand.

    iPhone is good for reading news and emails but not complete novels. And it does not match the battery life.

    Article like yours are misleading for people who may want to buy an eBook reader.

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    @Manas:

    Article like yours are misleading for people who may want to buy an eBook reader.

    What was misleading? I didn’t recommend one over the other (this wasn’t a review or comparison), just reported on the sales estimates and figures that are out there. I even noted what commenters here have said about each device — some think the Kindle has a better screen and form factor, other think the iPhone is adequate and does more.

  • http://www.binarysysdesign.com binarysys

    Another reason I love my kindle is I can email technical documents like smarty and svn documentation. I can bookmark important important sections and take notes. I think reading a technical documentation from an iphone would be tough.

  • http://altoonadesign.com halfasleeps

    I would not want to use a device to read a book because starring at a screen 8 hours day for work is hard enough on my eyes…I don’t want to come home and star at another (except for my hdtv but thats 6 feet away). I also wouldn’t want to read a 500+ page book on my tiny ipod touch screen (maybe a few short articles).

    Off topic…I got my ipod touch in the spring…can I get the app store and these new games on it?…or do I need a whole new ipod?

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    @halfasleeps: You should be able to. I have a first-gen iPod Touch as well, and getting the App Store required a firmware upgrade (to the iPhone 2.0 firmware). When I did the upgrade last month it cost $10 — not sure if that charge still applies since the launch of the second gen iPods.

  • lewis dyer

    I own an e-reader and It’s all about the screen, when reading a novel an LCD screen is the worst option to choose. I am yet to see evidence that these people read entire 500 page books on their iPods.

    Compare this to kindle and other e-book readers, who are actively buy titles and not just downloading RSS feeds from feedbooks.

    iPod is a long way from being the kindle killer.

  • Manas

    @Josh Catone,

    Your report refers to “speculations” regarding the number of Kindles sold (for $359 and $399) and the number of a “free” Stanza software downloaded by iPhone users.

    It do not seem to me as a good comparison – How many people do you think will be reading a 350 page novel on their iPhone? OK, How many people read novels in PDF or HTML format on their desktop?

  • http://www.mockriot.com/ Josh Catone

    @Manas: Mahaney’s Kindle sales estimates are high, if anything — so revising them down actually weighs in the iPhone’s favor.

    I think you only think its not a good comparison because you don’t think the iPhone is a good eBook reader. Your bias is showing.

    My point is something like this:

    -X number of people will likely own a Kindle by year’s end
    -Y larger number of people seem to be interested in reading books on the iPhone
    -Which will end up being the consummate eBook reader depends on user experience
    -In that vein, Kindle users say they use it for the better screen and easier to handle form factor. iPhone users, on the other hand, point to everything else the device can do (and some think the screen is perfectly adequate).

    I still fail to see how that’s at all misleading.

  • Someone1guy

    I have read and will continue to read full length novels on my Ipod Touch. In fact, I host my own catalog that has quite a few books on it, so that I can download my personal collection while on the go (in the Military). Take a look: google “someone1guy stanza”. A lot of people have emailed me stating that they are happy that they can read their book collections now that Stanza is around.

    It does take some getting used to to read on the Touch’s screen. And compared to a buddy’s Kindle, a wee bit tougher on the eyes. But once you get the screen set to your preference, breezing thru an ebook is just as easy as a real one.

    If the Kindle/Sony where (hypothetically) a 9 out of 10 stars for ereaders, then I would rate Stanza(Ipod) as 7.5. So for the same relative ammount of money I get a much more versatile accessory with a small comparable weakness in one area. Not a bad trade.