E Ink was one of those companies easy to miss during the Net Boom ten years ago.
While they got some press at the time, their product was too far off into the future to interest the lemmings buying stock in online dog food delivery companies.
In 2004, Sony used the E Ink technology to build an ebook reader called the LIBRIé.
The business model was similar to the DIVX rental format for DVDs which bombed so badly in this country: Sony and a consortium of Japanese publishers would let consumers “buy” books which were set to expire and become unreadable after 60 days.
It wasn’t long before hackers figured out how to disable the DRM, and if you were willing to do a bit of scripting, you could load and read all the books you wanted.
Amazon was paying attention, and it released the Kindle in 2007.
Unlike Sony, Amazon let you keep the book once you bought it, though they also use DRM, and occasionally upset their customers by removing paid-for ebooks.
Barnes & Noble jumped in with the Nook late last year, and there are more than 100 different ebook reader devices set to go on sale this year.
While most of the focus was on devices, we thought the real opportunity was in content, since the technology is now in place to allow anyone to publish, on any topic they choose, unleashing Long Tail effects.
The current market for home-brewed pdf books is similar to what the home-brewed software market used to be like, when independent developers would post their programs (shareware and crippleware) to download sites.
Few made any money, and from a consumer’s point of view, it was hard to know what was good and worth paying for.
That changed (at least in the mobile apps market) with the iPhone AppStore: there was now a central marketplace, which could be searched by popularity or reputation (reviews by other users), which made installing independent developer apps easy, and provided a way for developers to get paid.
We think the ebooks market is ready for a similar transformation.