The “Limited Edition” eReader: A Future Trend?


 aura_limited_ed

When Kobo announced their new Aura HD eReader two days ago, I was overwhelmed with excitement. Within seconds of seeing Nathan’s post on my Google Reader feed, I was on Kobo’s website placing my pre-order. The Aura HD embodies everything I have ever wanted in an E Ink device: a real HD E Ink display with over 250 dpi, a larger screen size, a fast processor, and superior firmware. The Aura HD will feature all of these elements, but the 1440 x 1080 (265 dpi) display and unique 6.8″ screen size are what I am most thrilled about. Finally, readers will be able to see HD E Ink in all of its glory.

After years of being stuck with “good enough” 800 x 600 resolution displays on the Kindle, Nook Simple Touch, and other eReaders, Amazon and Kobo finally got into the high-resolution game last year with the release of their respective front-lit eReaders, but even Amazon’s 1024 x 768 (“62% more pixels”) Paperwhite display failed to wow me in the way I was hoping. I think that the capacitive touch light guide, placed across the top of the display to diffuse the LEDs, makes text look only slightly better than it did before. Fonts definitely look bolder and a bit sharper, but they lack the crispness and clarity I wanted to see. High-resolution is great, but anyone holding a first-gen Kindle Fire next to the Kindle Fire HD or an iPad 4 can see that high-definition is much better.

In a past Mobileread exchange I got into (prior to the Kindle PW and Glo releases), one particularly vocal member insisted that my desire for an HD E Ink display was unrealistic, even “disingenuous.” Others pointed out that the added cost would prevent bottom-dollar pricing and claimed that the visual difference would be almost imperceptible in comparison. According to their reasoning, the 800 x 600 displays did the job, and there was no “genuine necessity for improvement.” I will admit that text displays just fine on my old Kindle Keyboard, but when I stare into the majesty of my Google Nexus 10’s 2560 x 1600 uber-retina display, it reminds me that incredibly high screen resolutions can do so much more for my reading experience. I couldn’t help but wonder what HD would be like on an E Ink display, and I knew that I wasn’t the only one.

The added cost of an HD E Ink display does, however, present a real problem. The Amazon/B&N/Kobo price wars have kept eReader quality in the no-frills category for awhile now. Then came the advent of front-lit displays; this would surely mean that other features would have to suffer to keep the price tags low. My dreams of an HD E Ink reader began to fade.

Then Kobo decided to change things up with a very interesting business decision, one that could start a new trend in eReader development.

Kobo claims that the Aura HD is a “limited edition” eReader. This implies that there will be a much smaller production run and that pre-orders will probably determine their projections for the number of units that they will make. Due to the ridiculously low price expectations of today’s eReader market ($69-$99), Kobo wisely doesn’t want to take the risk of adding a more expensive, high-end eReader to their list of standard devices. Things could go wrong, like they have with Amazon and B&N’s 9″ tablets, and Kobo could be left with a lot of unsold stock in their warehouses. By making the Aura HD a limited edition eReader, Kobo can both serve the needs of a niche market of eReading enthusiasts, and they might even be able to walk away from the deal without losing their shirts. I’m hoping that this move will start a new trend in eReader production—it would be interesting to see Amazon come out with a premium limited edition Kindle. Technological progress should not be stalled by the constraints of the general market. Interest in more expensive and more advanced Onyx Boox and Cybook eReaders from overseas by readers in the U.S. shows that there are people who want something better from their eReaders, and they are willing to pay more for it.

When I first heard about this “limited edition” eReader concept, I immediately thought about fine press publishers like Easton Press and The Folio Society. Both print books of immaculate quality with standard titles costing around $50-$70 and limited edition selections going for much much higher than that. Amazon has driven the expected price of books down to around $10-$15 for a new hardback, but this hasn’t stopped these specialty publishers from offering books made with the highest possible grade of craftsmanship and materials. For example, Easton Press publishes a dozen or so Deluxe Limited Editions over the course of a year and will sell them to ardent EP collectors until they are gone. The average cost of a single volume is usually over $200 with multivolume sets costing hundreds of dollars each. These books are not made for everyone to purchase, but those who will appreciate them the most have the option to buy them. Sure, the majority of consumers will be satisfied with a free public domain eBook copy of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but others are willing to shell out over $400 for a leather bound limited edition. Should they not have this option just because the $1.80 Dover Thrift Edition is all they really “need”?

Like limited edition books, limited edition eReaders could follow the same business model. A company could produce a run of 10,000 or so eReaders with the latest HD displays, tablet-grade processors, advanced firmware, and metal casings. They sell them until they are out-of-stock, and then move on to continue focusing on their $69-$119 leaders. They could even open up pre-orders earlier in the year and make only enough needed to fill them. As long as the company makes a profit and readers are happy, why not?

Hopefully, the idea of the “limited edition” eReader will work well for Kobo. Maybe other companies who formerly took pride in making high quality eReaders with the most advanced features (here’s looking at you Sony) will follow suit. Not everyone will care whether or not their E Ink display is retina quality, but for those that do, the Aura HD is a promising sign.

19 Responses to “The “Limited Edition” eReader: A Future Trend?”

  1. I know that the ebook readers from my profile are in minority. Even that is debatable. Higher resolution dedicated e-readers are good; they offer less distraction than tablets (can’t use it for pron browsing) and are easier on eyes. Kids in the school do not read only poetry, they study chemistry, biology … Colleges should demand this kind of high resolution e-readers … I’m not sure how people can be so one-sided (or blindsided) that 800×600 is the limit and we should not demand anything beyond that.

    • I agree; eReaders have been pushed into a ‘one size fits all’ category where they are all expected to be the same. They are even more streamlined now due to the market price restrictions. The limited edition concept would be an exciting break from this.

  2. It took me about 5 hours before deciding I needed to order the new Aura (from the time I noticed the posting on this site), though it got my attention right away!

    My order number is in the high 9 thousands (if you ignore the leading 10000 sequence). I’m wondering what number they started with… in other words, am I just under the 10-thousandth unit ordered, or did they start with a high number?

    Anyone who ordered right away… what general number range is your order in? (Yes, the wait release-day is killing me, so I’m trying to set my expectations for how far back in line I might be, if production hasn’t met the level of orders.)
    :-{}

  3. Hi Andrew,

    I own both the Onyx i62HD and M92 and both are good e-readers. But also keep in mind it’s more than the HD screen. The software that drives these readers is very important and that’s where I think Onyx has the others licked. Especially with handling .pdf files.

    I think Onyx will eventually have this new screen. They were the first company to market with the current 6 inch/1024 by 758 screen.

    I think Kobo will get traction and maybe the Amazons, Sonys and Nooks will lose interest in the B&W niche.

    • I have the Onyx M92 and I agree that their firmware is far superior than Kobo’s when it comes to reading PDFs. The hands-on video I saw of the Aura shows some improvement in Kobo’s PDF capabilities, but it’s nothing near Onyx.

  4. Seems like it is only possible to pre-order from UK, US and Canada and later buy in shops Italy and France as well. That is indeed limited edition.

  5. The advent of ‘luxury’ market for e-readers isn’t really a surprise. In everything else, there is a quality range. Clothes, books, property, electronics… Some people are happy with bargain-basement; others want more. We are now moving into the area where a luxury range is possible – the tech is good enough that ‘adequate’ isn’t the best we can get. There’s room for differentiation.

    I, too, have ordered by Aura HD, but I didn’t order it direct. So some of Kobo’s unknown number of units will have been dispatched to third-party suppliers. This may muck up your numbers!

    • Excellent observations, Jen.

      And as for the order numbers, I’m not sure I would go by them either to figure out your ‘place in line.’ I ordered mine directly from Kobo rather early in the day and still got a 9000 order number. I doubt there will be much of a wait-time after they start shipping; this isn’t like a mass Amazon release where being first in line really matters.

      I wonder when their official cases will be available for sale?

  6. Having ordered the cover, I’m not sure I’d do that again if I had a do-over. It’s nice for reading like a book, decent for holding one-handed with my right hand, but kind of digs into my hand when holding lefthanded, say, while eating.

    The cover also adds enough weight to make me notice it. The reader by itself feels quite comfortable one-handed in either hand, so a sleeve might provide more options.

    The reader snaps quite firmly into the cover and does not remove easily. On the plus side, the cover does not add much bulk.

    • Thanks Cynthia for this input on the feel of the cover. Finding the right cover for one’s e-reader is quite a tricky operation, notwithstanding the fact that it’s quite a pricey investment.

      I require a perfect balance between left and right hand when holding and operating a reader therefore have settle myself with the form of a vertical flip cover. Unfortunately, such form factor exists only with Barnes & Noble’s Nook (NST and Glow) to the best of my knowledge. It’s one of the main reason why I still hold to my NST and have not bought a lighted e-reader yet. I would also prefer to keep the same cover so not to have to invest in a new one when changing e-reader model or manufacturer.

      • I did some searching, but finding a leather sleeve for this device may be difficult. I don’t like neoprene, so that’s not an option for me. I’m thinking I’ll keep the sleep cover for now, but may look around on Etsy for someone willing to make a custom sleeve.

  7. Well personally I worry that “limited edition” could mean that by the time I go to the store to purchase my reader that the employee at the store tell me “sorry but we sold the last one 2 days after the release and there won’t be anymore readers of that limited edition to purchase”. Or that the reader be simply never available in my country because the limited amount made was barely enough for North America and the UK.

  8. Has anyone tried adding new fonts to Aura? They appear in the font list on the reader, but when selected, have no effect on the text (it defaults to Georgia, I think).

    • One of the first things I did was add the modified version of Charis SIL to my Aura HD mentioned in the What is Your Favorite eBook Font article and it is working and looks fantastic. Is it a sideloaded ePub you are having problems with? Those tend to have more issues with changing fonts.

  9. The point is as always the screen is too small..

    I want a 8 – 9″!!!