Interview with Michael Dahan, co-founder and CEO of Bookeen

Bookeen are a France-based e-reader maker, that currently offer two models (the Cybook Gen3, available now for 350$, and the Opus, available now for 215$) and are set to release a new one, the Orizon. Michael Dahan, Bookeen's co-founder and CEO has agreed to answer a few questions. 

Q: Michael - First of all, thank you for this interview. Currently you are offering two e-readers, the Cybook Gen3 and the Cybook Opus. Can you tell us how are the sales of these models?

The sales are very good. We are sold mainly throughout Europe and have started more actively in the US. We evaluate our market share in Europe to be 25-30%. We are sold in large retail networks like FNAC or Mediamarket and have a strong presence in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. UK remains a stronghold for us, but we plan to crack it.

Bookeen Cybook Opus

The Cybook Gen3 has started its carrier in October 2007, two weeks before Kindle. Since this date, It has known several enhancements through different versions. It has been released in its last version (Gold Edition) last September. It’s a 6" E ink screen with 8-levels grayscale 170dpi/1GB/Audio/SD card slot/3 weeks battery lifetime with native support of Adobe EPUB/PDF. In this version it is delivered with a protective cover, USB charger and earphones.

The Cybook Opus is its little brother and has been launched in August 2009. It’s a 5" E ink screen with an amazing 200dpi resolution, 1GB of storage memory with possibility of extension with microSD. It has an accelerometer which enables you to switch from portrait to landscape with a flip. It is delivered with an acclaimed protective sleeve.

Q: The Opus is quite small, with a 5" E Ink display. What market are you targeting with such a small reader?
The Opus is not as small as you may suggest. In fact most of the time, customers don’t see the difference between the 6" and 5". The current market on 6’’ device is clearly aiming heavy readers. The customer typology is quite well defined. It’s a 45 years old person with Reading as his first leisure activity.  It makes sense if you think about it.

We are still in a nascent market with its early adopters. But this market is growing very fast, and now eBook readers touch more and more casual and younger readers.

The Cybook Opus has been designed for this market. With its contemporary design, its compact form factor for reading on the go and its optimized price we clearly aiming this market.

Q: Currently you do not offer any e-books through your own site. Are there any plans to open such an e-book shop?
No. We leave this activity to other people. We know this business by heart and we have even launched our own eBook store in 2005. It still exists but it’s a real different business than what we are currently doing.

There is a lot of local know-how and you can not make yourself a book vendor without any investment.

Our goal is to build synergies and partnerships with eBook shops in order to give the best offer to our customers.

Q: Your readers use the Mobipocket DRM files, or alternatively ePub/PDFs. Why can't these two live together?
Mobipocket belongs to Amazon.  Amazon forbids us legally to have two DRMs on the same device. Technically we can do it, legally we can not.

Q: Most readers seem to use either Adobe's files or ePub. Why did you choose Mobipocket?
This question is an historical mistake.

Adobe EPUB has appeared 18 month ago. We have heavily promoted the EPUB format even before most of our competitors were thinking about eBooks. We were the second reader to be Adobe EPUB/PDF certified just after Sony. And before that we had even our own EPUB software reader.

Before that the only real reflowable format with DRM proposing a large size catalog was Mobipocket. Mobipocket is a French company, like us, and we know them for a long time. We were the first to work with them (in 2004) and have their format on a dedicated Reader. In the meantime they have been bought by Amazon in 2005 and when we renewed the agreement we signed with Amazon (which can sound a bit weird).

The AZW (Amazon eBook format) is in fact a revamped version of Mobipocket. Mobipocket future, as an independent format, is uncertain but as the Amazon key format they are certainly one of the most used eBook format in the world.

Historically, Mobipocket was our first partner for content. We have decided to promote and switch to ePUB for obvious strategic reasons.

Q: The new Orizon will be released in May 2010 - with a multi-touch 6" Sipix display and Wi-Fi. Is this still on track?
Yes. It is. I think Orizon will be really one of the best contenders on the market. For 250$ you get more than a kindle or a Sony PRS900. We are even thinner than the Plastic Logic QUE with only 7.6mm.

Bookeen OrizonBookeen Orizon

Most of the people who have seen the device describe it as a state of the art or most achieved device they’ve seen. Our goal is really to bring the best device for the best price. No sky-high pricing, no false promise on ePaper quality, we remain focus and ready to lead the competition.

Q: The Gen3 and the Opus use E Ink, while the new Orizon will use Sipix's e-paper. Why did you change to this display technology?
For three major reasons:

  1. AUO (Sipix) touchscreen is light year away from Sony resistive technology. You keep the optical quality of ePaper and you get an incredibly reactive touchscreen. For us touchscreen on such a large display is a must-have.
  2. AUO has great developments and move incredibly fast.
  3. We did not want to depend only on one screen manufacturer (PVI).

Q: The E-reader market is still in its infancy, but already there are leaders: Amazon, Sony, B&N and possibly the new Apple iPad. Will there be room for smaller players?

As you say, the market is in its infancy. We are just beginning and nothing is done. Things are moving very fast, best sellers can appear in a glimpse and the business models are even not dry (look at the last battle between Amazon and Apple about eBook pricing). I think that the whole business will change many times before its final stabilization and we, Bookeen, are evolving very fast in this ocean of opportunities. So yes until now there is plenty of room for small players.

Q: Some people say that there is no need for a 'dedicated' e-reader, because you can use your smart phone, netbook or tablet. What's your response?
I have at least 2 answers:

The first one: look at the eBook Reader market. It’s a 3 million units market with an objective of 7 to 10 million units this year. Many big CE brands plan to enter the game. The dedicated reader market is real. If the market is here, the need should exist.

The second one: Laptops, Smartphones or even Tablets exist for many years now. Very mature eBook software solutions like Microsoft Reader or even Mobipocket Reader have been present since the 2000’s. However the eBook market has remained a niche market for 10 years until dedicated Readers came up with ePaper technology. We can say that ePaper is the real key of the eBook reader market as it is today.

However let’s face it, we have also to take in consideration that iPhone has been a game changer on many things and new younger customers may prefer fast reading session on smaller devices.

Today, there’s clearly a business for eBooks with dedicated Readers and high end smartphones. I wait for the iPad to see, if a large screen tablet with awesome software can make the difference in this field too.

Q: Are you planning a larger-sized reader? Some companies are starting to offer 8-10" readers aimed towards magazines rather than books.

Currently it is very difficult to manufacture a device and reach a SRP below 400. You are thus in direct competition with the iPad. We try to see how to make low price large screen devices.

I think Magazines on ePaper without colors is nonsense. Newspaper makes more sense but are you ready in to pull out from your backpack your A4 sized reader to read the newspaper.

Not sure, it will make it in the everyday life.

Q: What do you think are the main challenges in the e-reader market?

There are plenty of them. Here are three:

  • From a technical point of view, flexible screens introduce new technical challenges which remain completely unaddressed.
  • Software interface are still very clumsy and don’t utilize the full potential of current ePpaer displays.
  • From a business development point of view, many areas remain untouched by the eBook Readers like Education, technical documentation and newspaper. There’s still a lot of work to do in these fields.

Q: How do you envision the market in 3-5 years? What role will Bookeen play?

The guy who is able to make a reliable prediction in such fast moving market is a genius... However I take it.

If we remain focused on device, I think flexible ePaper and bi-stable screens will open a new generation of electronic device with very low-power consumption and thus very high mobility. There might be a convergence between multi-function Tablets and Readers a bit like the convergence between MP3 player and Mobile phones.

Digital content will become widely available and the next big markets for Readers will be either education or/and newspaper.

Thanks again Michael, I wish both you and Bookeen good luck!

e-book screen

To me, 6" is too small. Most of the books on my shelf are about 8" page size. That would be the best size to carry around, read on, and market. Touch screen is not really needed, but ok to have. Focus on the screen size and quality of the text on the background.

e-book screen for mobility

6'' appears small indeed but after two years with a Cybook Gen3, I think it is a good compromise, both in size and weight.

Having your reader in your pocket is a great advantage and Cybook Gen3 is just the ideal choice for it. Besides, that reader is really easy to use : it's just a reader, you don't lose your time searching for hidden functions among too many applications, and I love it for that!

display size

According to my experience 6'' is in fact enough if you're reading ebooks in reflowable format (e.g. Mobipocket or EPUB). But if you want to read non-reflowable PDFs which are usually 1:1 copies from larger books, or scanned documents, then 6'' is definitely too small. If you scale down, then you can't read it, if you zoom in, you need to scroll all the times, often even horizontally, even in landscape mode.

Anyway, I like my CyBook Gen 3. Thank's for the interview, that was interesting.

Orizon looks great

Hope it will ship all over EU, since I want one. :)

Two DRMs

If Amazon forbids two DRMs on the same device, then we Cybook owners would have been much more happy with a Firmware with ePub DRM and Mobipocket without DRM.
Thanks for the interview.


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