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TechCrunch reported that Kindle Books Overtake Paperback Books To Become Amazon’s Most Popular Format. Last July Amazon’s Kindle eReader books had surpassed hardcover books in terms of sales, selling 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books. Paperbacks have now also fallen behind with the Kindle selling 115 books for every 100 paperbacks. Hardcover books are now half of Kindle e-books, and there are now more than 800,000 e-books to choose from.

Nearly a year ago, I posed the question of whether the iPad would dethrone the Kindle? I don’t claim to have the answer but I may have some clues. I selected one of David McCullough‘s outstanding pieces of work and read chapters alternately on the iPhone, iPad, Kindle, and Kindle on iPad. Not that many years ago I said in speeches that I “would never read a book on my cell phone”. I was wrong. Reading a whole book is unlikely for me but reading a chapter here and a  chapter there is for sure. Standing in line at the supermarket or waiting for a subway train or maybe sitting on a park bench offers a chance to consume something you are really anxious to read. The iPhone Kindle app provides a landscape view and it is quite readable and simple to navigate. The beautiful thing is that when you later pick up your Kindle or the Kindle app on the iPad and open the reader it asks you if you want to continue where you left off on your iPhone. The Amazon Whispersync feature is innovative and extends your reading time and enjoyment. Apple will have something similar or better and Google Android readers will no doubt have a sync feature as well.

One disadvantage of the iPad as a reader is that at one and a half pounds — not a lot compared to a laptop or even a netbook — it is five times heavier than a Kindle. The weight is concentrated in a thin flat device and I find it uncomfortable to hold after a while. The other thing is the back-lighting. The iPad screen is actually bright — perfect for flipping  through photos, watching a movie, or surfing the web, but for a couple of hours of reading it can be hard on your eyes. The positive aspect of the iBook reader is the graphical representation of the bookshelf and the flipping of the pages. It is truly incredible that as you slowly “flip” a page with your finger you can see the words on the back of the page. You have to see it to believe it. The processing power to perform the page turning is equivalent to what was called a supercomputer not long ago. The iBook reader also has some very nice content related features. The brightness can be adjusted — helps with eye fatigue — and there are five selectable fonts with variable sizes. I really like the display at the lower right of each page that shows how many pages remain to be read in the current chapter. An icon at the top brings you the table of contents of the book and a listing of all your bookmarks. Adding a new bookmark is very simple. You tap tap on a word and a menu pops up asking if you want to look up the word in a dictionary, search the book for occurrences of the word, or make the word be a bookmark. When I show someone the iPad iBook reader I always make sure to place a bookmark so that after they get finished paging around I can get back to where I was. The Kindle 3 just makes everything I said even better.

The Kindle reader on the iPad is an updated version of the iPhone reader. It takes good advantage of the larger screen and also allows you to change the color of the pages — white, black, or sepia. The content controls are good but not as slick as the iBook reader. Ditto with the page turning. The Kindle reader has the graphical page flip but it doesn’t show the words on the back of the page. Certainly not something you need but it makes a distinction for the iBook reader that people find impressive.

Last but certainly not least of the four is the Kindle itself. The Kindle uses e-ink —   it is reflective — like paper. The more light the better. Like millions of others, I am Kindlzed — since 2007. The 5 once device never burdens the wrist. The Kindle is monochrome but we don’t need color to read a novel. The Kindle is simple and intuitive to use. Not flashy, compared to the iPad, but dependable with long battery life. For extended reading sessions the Kindle remains best, in my opinion — for now. I expect things to change. The multi-purpose ability of the iPad is important. I find myself jumping over to check or send an email when I think of something while reading. Rather than just look up a word in the built-in dictionary I sometimes want to visit theWikipedia or explore a web site. The iPad has personal appeal and you get attached to it. Publishers are busy working with authors to create multimedia content to be integral to new and backlisted books — audio in the background, video interviews with the author or clips of content relevant to the topic of the book may make books more appealing and also may make them worth more — which brings us to the pricing.

The McCullough book was $9.99 on Amazon and $14.99 through the iBook store at Apple. Same book. No multimedia content. Is Apple’s version of the book worth 50% more? Publishers really don’t like the idea of people getting used to paying $9.99 for a book. They want a new model. Apple is accommodating them — so far. Time will tell how things are going to shake out. Ken Auletta’s piece from the April 26, 2010 issue of The New Yorker explores the state of book publishing with excellent analysis of the strategies of the  two digital behemoths — Amazon and Apple, and also describes how Google will soon follow with it’s readers and online store. There is a very large fight beginning for control of the e-books market.

There will be much more to say about the book market but in the meantime the iPad will be selling briskly. No doubt in my mind that there will be very large adoption — tens of millions for sure — and it will make a big dent in PC’s. Also, more to say about what the iPad can not do and about the bigger question of iTunes. When will it be in the cloud? The iPhone will continue to be an important part of my life — for calls and picture taking. This morning I had an appointment at a place that had no WiFi (fewer and fewer of such places) so I turned on the iPad and took a minute or two to download my email inbox and the Wall Street Journal before leaving the house. It was more than enough to occupy my subsequent idle time.