Microsoft has announced that it will be discontinuing Microsoft Reader. If you go to the main Microsoft Reader website right now, you’ll see a short message.
It says: “Microsoft is discontinuing Microsoft Reader effective August 30, 2012, which includes download access of the Microsoft Reader application from the Microsoft Reader website. However, customers may continue to use and access the Microsoft Reader application and any .lit materials on their PCs or devices after the discontinuation on August 30, 2012. New content for purchase from retailers in the .lit format will be discontinued on November 8, 2011.”
Why? … My Opinion
This is a result of the ebook industry growing and developing. eBooks have been around for many years, but have grown in popularity over the past few. During that time, e-Ink e-readers have become very popular, and now tablets seem to be taking it to the next step. These devices use PDF and ePub files, except for the Kindle, which uses its own special format.
Before this surge of e-reader and tablet usage, ebooks were generally read on computer screens and PDA-style devices like older Palms and Pocket PCs, along with some older e-readers like the Franklin eBookMan and Gemstar eBook. After smartphones became available, some folks with a pioneering spirit read ebooks on those small screens. During this time there were many ebook formats available, and Microsoft Reader one was one of those. It was mostly used on Windows PCs and Pocket PCs (which later became Windows Mobile).
I always liked Microsoft Reader as an ebook format. It provided a much more “book-like” feeling than PDF files. The design of the reader, the color of the pages, the Clear-Type of the text, all made the reading experience feel like a paper book.
But now we have e-Ink e-readers like the Nook, Kobo, BeBook, Sony Reader, etc, as well as tablets. Microsoft Reader can not be used on any of these devices, and as a result, fewer and fewer people have been using Microsoft Reader. My understanding is that Microsoft only made money on Microsoft Reader ebooks when they were sold with DRM. They were paid a small percentage of each sale for the use of the DRM technology. It is likely that this just became too low that developing new versions of Microsoft Reader and providing support for it no longer made any sense.
How will this affect ebook users?
Their official message pretty much tells you everything you need to know. You will be able to download Microsoft Reader until August 20th, 2012. That means you have a year left to download it if you need to.
You will only be able to buy new Microsoft Reader ebooks through November 8, 2011. I suspect that book publishers will immediately stop publishing their books in Microsoft Reader format. I certainly would if I were a publisher. No need to create content in a format that will soon be completely obsolete. Likewise, my guess is that ebook retailers will start phasing out the format very quickly, especially if there will be no new content published.
So what does that mean for you if you currently have ebooks in Microsoft Reader format? My recommendation is to make sure that you download the latest version of Microsoft Reader so that it will last as long as possible for you. If you need to re-download any of your past purchases, do that right away before the option is no longer available. Then, make backups of the files.
Be aware of DRM. If you had to activate Microsoft Reader with a Passport or Windows Live ID, that means that you won’t easily be able to copy the files from one computer to another. Make sure that you’ve got all of your computers and Windows Mobile devices activated with the same Windows Live ID. That will increase your chances of being able to use the ebooks on each of your devices. You could even make a small notepad .txt note with your Windows Live ID (and password, if you want) and store it in the same folder where you store your Microsoft Reader ebooks, just to make sure that you remember. Take care of this long before the end dates arrive.
I view this as a good sign. It means that the ebook industry as a whole has developed far enough that one of the mainstream formats has dropped away. This means we’re closer to a universal ebook format, which will make life much easier for users.
Over this weekend news broke that Borders is closing all of its stores for good. This comes after they filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and closed some of their stores, but not all of them.
Some analysts and bloggers have speculated that bookstores are having a hard time because of the growing popularity of online shopping. That includes online shopping for paper books as well as shopping online for ebooks. Between both of those, old-fashioned bookstores have lost much of their foot traffic. This is also on top of Amazon’s extremely low prices that small bookstores have never been able to compete with.
When I heard the news that Borders was completely shutting down, the first thing I thought of was Kobo. I was under the impression that they were owned by Borders, but it turns out that Borders only owned an 11% stake in the company, according to this article on PCMag. The article also says that Kobo has its own agreements with major book publishers and does not rely on Borders for content.
If you bought a Kobo eReader at a Borders store, you probably set up your account through them instead of directly with Kobo. Kobo has a way for you to transition your account to Kobo and move it away from Borders. You can see instructions for that here. You can also get content for your Kobo eReader from independent stores like eBookMall (see their Kobo page for info).