Celebrate millions with the number 2,000,000
I’ve been waiting for digital readers to reach “a tipping point”. Is this the week that it finally happens? Last week Amazon announced they’d sold millions of Kindles in just the last 73 days. And now Sony just announced they’ve also sold millions of their digital reading devices, too. In fact, they predict it’ll be sold out within just a few days (“before the holidays”), and their more-expensive model is actually outselling the cheaper one.

But I think ebooks reached another important milestone on Sunday. The second-biggest newspaper in America is the Los Angeles Times, and yesterday in its Sunday edition — which is read by over one million people — their book critic had an announcement for the world. “The great debate of the last several years — whether readers would read book-length material onscreen — appears to have been settled with a resounding ‘yes’.” Elsewhere in the newspaper, he published his list of his favorite books this year. But he’d prefaced it by noting the popularity of the Kindle and iPad (plus the launch of Google’s own ebook store), saying each development “points to significant shifts in how we read.”

In his last column of 2010, David L. Ulin wrote that ebooks were “the story in publishing this year,” and admits that even he now owns a Kindle. (Although he seems a little ambivalent about it, writing “I have a Kindle but I rarely use it, and I don’t have an iPad, although I covet one…”) But surprisingly, he’s not worried about a threat to the printed book, and he argues instead that “none of these media are in competition. They are complementary.” The book, after all, is just a medium for something more important. “The issue is not what we read on, just as the issue is not what we read. The issue is that we read, that we continue to interact with long-form writing…”

And maybe there’s another secret hint about the future that’s hidden in his list of favorite books. I know at least one of the authors also owns a Kindle: Elif Batuman. “The Kindle is wonderful for drunk people…” she wrote in a British newspaper in October. “Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn’t usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol… Because I am a writer, people sometimes ask me how ebooks have changed the literary landscape. The short answer, for me, is that I have developed a compulsion to drunk-dial Agatha Christie several times a week.”

She’s a book-lover with a sense of humor, and she called her 2010 memoir The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. Yes, it’s available on the Kindle, offering a semi-serious personal inquiry into the act of reading itself. It just seems to me like everyone’s using Kindles — even the people who write books, about reading books, and the book critics who then criticize those books.

In fact, even that critic’s newspaper — The Los Angeles Times — is available on the Kindle. And the circle doesn’t end there, since tonight my girlfriend will be reading this blog post about that Kindle-using book critic…on her own Kindle!

Kindles are everywhere…

Sharp Galapagos Reader to compete with the iPad and Kindle
Today Japan’s electronics giant Sharp announced they’ll be releasing two fancy Android-based e-readers in December, to compete with the Kindle and iPad. They’re targetting 1 million in sales for the tablet-sized reading devices in their first year, according to IDG News Service, and they’re calling them Galapagos (after the exotic islands where Charles Darwin studied numerous species). Sharp sees the name as “a symbol of the ‘evolution’ of services” (and devices) “that constantly bring fresh, new experiences to the user.”

It’s an allusion to the fact that (besides updates to its software), the device can periodically refresh its content. Sharp’s press release emphasized its “Automatic Scheduled Delivery Service” for newspapers and magazines, though “The first models have Wi-Fi but don’t come equipped with 3G wireless,” notes IDG. And they also report that while there’s some Android apps pre-installed, “users might not be able to download additional apps.” In fact, a careful study of the press release reveals many shortcomings.

1. Sharp promises a total of just 30,000 newpapers, magazines, and ebooks. (Whereas Amazon’s Kindle Store offers 700,000).

2. Sharp didn’t announce its price.

3. It’s got a standard LCD display, rather than the more comfortable e-ink.

But most importantly, Sharp’s press release promises “a network service and device specifically designed for the Japanese market.” This means that it fully supports Japanese characters, but the device is based on the XMDF document format, according to IDG, “a format developed by Sharp and largely confined to Japan”. I think it’s significant that the device comes pre-installed with a “social network service” for sharing comments and lists of ebooks. Text messaging is extremely popular in Japan, but it’s not necessarily a must-have feature for a digital reader.

There’s two models – one the size of a Kindle, and one the size of an iPad — and the cases come in two colors, red and silver. (Though the larger models are only available in black).


Sharp Galapagos Reader to compete with iPad


But ultimately, I have the same reaction that I did when Apple released the iPad. It just shows that all around the world, people are still very excited about the reader market!