E-Book report: Nook is up, iPad still catching up

By Hillel Italie

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 26 2011 5:21 p.m. MDT

Author Megan McDonald, left, and actress Jordana Beatty from the upcoming "Judy Moody" movie appear at the Book Expo America in New York, Wednesday, May 25, 2011.

Charles Sykes, Associated Press

NEW YORK — As the publishing industry wrapped up four days of digital talk at its annual national convention, Amazon.com's Kindle was seen as the clear, if not dominant, player in the growing e-market; Barnes & Noble's Nook was considered a pleasant surprise and Apple's iPad an underachiever.

"They had a respectable launch, but we think Apple can do better," Penguin Group (USA) CEO David Shanks said this week during BookExpo America, which ended Thursday at the Jacob Javits Center. "They still haven't moved their e-books into their iTunes store, and they can have a much better search capability in their iBookstore."

"The iPad offers so many audio visual applications that reading is not given as much priority as it is in dedicated (reading only) devices like the Nook and Kindle," says literary agent Richard Curtis.

More than 20 million iPads and iPad 2s have been sold over the past year, and the iBookstore is also available on more than 160 million additional devices through the iPhone and iPod. But publishers and agents say Apple is not yet the balance to Amazon.com for which they had hoped. They estimate that Apple sales are around 10 percent of the e-market, far behind the believed 60 percent to 65 percent for Amazon. Publishers and agents say e-books are at least 15 percent to 20 percent of overall sales, more than double from just a year ago.

Apple spokesman Jason Roth declined to comment on any specific criticisms, but did say that the iBookstore had over 150,000 titles — an Amazon spokesman says the the Kindle store has more than 950,000 — and that more than 100 million books had been downloaded worldwide through the iBookstore. He would not say how many were downloads of free books. Selections at the iBookstore were greatly improved this year when Random House Inc., publisher of Stieg Larsson and John Grisham among others, agreed to sell through Apple after resolving differences over pricing.

Brian Murray, CEO of HarperCollins Publishers, said iBookstore sales were "a little smaller than expected," but he praised the iPad as a multimedia breakthrough that enabled publishers to sell e-picture books and "enhanced" e-books that include video and sound.

"There are certainly areas for improvement, as there are with every book retailer and device," he said. "But the promise of having another platform where books can be discovered is still true today. The potential is enormous."

A strong No. 2 to Amazon has emerged, but it's Barnes & Noble, which launched the Nook late in 2009 to skepticism about everything from the name "Nook" to the design. David Pogue in The New York Times had mocked the Nook's "half-baked software" and called the device "an anesthetized slug."

But Barnes & Noble has worked to improve the Nook and to offer different types, including a touch screen version announced this week. The company promoted the Nook relentlessly through its superstores and now has around 25 percent of e-sales, publishers say.

David Young, CEO of the Hachette Book Group, said the Nook's success had "frankly astounded" him. Random House CEO Markus Dohle acknowledged he was initially "worried a bit" about the Nook, but praised Barnes & Noble for its "extraordinary accomplishment."

Even the American Booksellers Association, the trade group representing independent sellers, was congratulating its longtime rival.

"They've married the physical location to the e-book device in a way that is profound," says Len Vlahos, the association's chief operating officer.

BookExpo America is a combination of trade show, seminar, soapbox and family reunion, with agents, authors, booksellers and publishers assembled under the Javits roof and in and out of the center's erratic Wi-Fi. The convention is also a testament to the endless and surprising variety of publishers, where a booth this week for the Lebanese Ministry of Culture stood across the aisle from a display of American Girl products.

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