Yesterday, a Twitter colleague who comments as @fairuse pointed me to a post by Piotr Kowalczyk, who runs eBook Friendly. Kowalczyk had found "eBook device and distribution options", a chart developed several months ago by Aptara's Jean Kaplansky.
Kaplansky's chart branches along the lines of platforms, notably Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony and Bluefire*. Before Amazon introduced the Kindle, the landscape was generally open, but the absence of widely adopted standards and the use of DRM made it difficult to acquire and load content onto various stand-alone devices (including some sold by Sony).
Amazon's introduction of a seamless eBook ecosystem tied together content libraries, retail stores and reading platforms in a way that (in effect) captured readers. As Kowalczyk notes:
Opposite to print books, which you can buy in any bookstore you like, real or online, once you enter the world of digital content, you are forced to be loyal. You won’t do anything without being logged out. You are connected with your books via account credentials. You have access to your cloud library and all the extra features, and every time you read an ebook you’re getting used to the system – same font, same options window, same way to swipe pages.
To date, readers who want a digital option have been willing to live with the constraints imposed by these closed ecosystems. With the growth rate for digital books slowing, I wonder how long that comfort will last.
As cell-phone use became super-saturated in the United States, telecoms providers were forced to allow their users to port telephone numbers to other carriers. If reading platform innovation stalls or one or more of the major platforms tires of the eBook business, we might witness a similar change in the eBook market.
*Although Kaplansky's chart includes Bluefire, I do not see the service in the same category as the other platforms, each of which offers specific hardware. A more open ecosystem could be supported by a service like Bluefire, which relies on DRM but has not developed a proprietary scheme. Others may see this differently, but I wanted to make note of it.