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My debut technology column in the New Zealand Listener hits the streets in the Auckland region today and over the weekend for the rest of the country.

You’ll find a preview of it here soon, when the latest issue’s contents are loaded up. To kick off, I looked around my neighbourhood – central Wellington, and examined the forces putting my local video store and music store out of business and which could well finish off my local Whitcoulls outlet before long too.
Symbol of the (digital) revolution - iPad 2, released this week

Symbol of the (digital) revolution - iPad 2, released this week

I’m talking about the digitization of content and the efficiency of e-tailers that can serve New Zealand from the other side of the world better than retailers on our doorstep can. In my book, this trend is a positive thing as its leading to a better customer experience, more competitive prices – and opportunities for New Zealand companies to get in on the act in the weightless economy.

You’ll need to buy the Listener to read the column, but here are the websites and devices I refer to it the column which may prove useful for those on the hunt for decent online retailers or options for buying digital content.

Websites

Amazon.com – The biggest and some would say the best online book, music and movie etailer. Amazon is the US giant of e-tailing and headed by Jeff Bezos has come up with some visionary innovations of its own – the Kindle ebook reader being the most successful. In January, ebooks outsold good old-fashioned paper books for the first time, as millions of people unpacked Kindles that had been left under the Christmas tree and then went looking for their first book purchases. Good prices, second-hand items available too, reliable service and delivery, if a little slow at the standard delivery rate. The go-to place for browsing crowd-sourced book, movie and music reviews and a really nice, user-friendly site. Buying through the online music service is a breeze too.

BBC iPlayer - Sadly, not available to people attempting to log on from New Zealand (though this may change in the next couple of years as the BBC has signaled its intention to take the iPlayer global – for a subscription fee of “less that US$10 a month” according to sources at the Beeb. The iPlayer service already has Google Android and iPad apps available in Britain. The complexities of content distribution arrangements will probably slow the arrival of the iPlayer here, but one thing is for sure – the iPlayer service would clean up here, luring those disillusioned with pay TV and happy to view content on tablets, PCs and internet-enabled TVs.

The Book Depository – My favourite online book store, The Book Depository offers free shipping worldwide and delivers impressively quickly – generally 3 – 4 days. The site isn’t as user-friendly as Amazon’s, but selection is extensive and The Book Depository is particularly good in niche areas – science, economics, textbooks etc. A pleasure to use and gets a lot of repeat business from me, mainly because I can get books up to 25% cheaper thanks to the free shipping policy and generally lower prices.

Copia – a fledgling social networking website for book lovers that also acts as a fairly good ebook store. Write reviews, share favourites, join discussion groups. It is like an online book club where you participate from the comfort of your home armed with PC or iPad. It has a way to go to reach the critical mass that will make it as useful as Amazom.com

Digirama – A great place to buy music, particularly music by local artists. Audio tracks are $1.75 each, while new release albums cost $17 which is cheaper than buying a CD and without annoying digital rights management, you can shift music between numerous PCs.

Fishpond – The best local etailer of books, movies and music, Fishpond has an impressive selection and offers free national shipping. Delivery is generally 1 – 2 business days. While similar to or better than retail prices, Fishpond struggles to match Book Depository on price given the latter’s free international shipping. Nevertheless, solid service, good selection and on-time delivery has seen Fispond become the biggest fish in – the small pond of New Zealand etailing (ouch, that was lame). Slightly cheaper than iTunes.

iTunes – content wise it is fantastic – the iTunes store is the most successful online music store in the world and also excels as an etailer of movies and TV shows (though much of what is on offer isn’t available in New Zealand), as well as a vast number of podcasts – many of them free to download. The iTunes software that sits on your computer and through which you access the online store is a different story – I’m not a big fan. It isn’t very flexible, requires regular and large updates and really forces you to do things Apple’s way. Give me Winamp over iTunes any day. Nevertheless, if you own an iPod, iPhone or iPad, you’ll need to use iTunes, so you better get used to it as hundreds of millions so far have.

Devices

Apple iPad – the best tablet on the market and soon to be superseded on March 25 by the iPad 2, which is slimmer, faster and boasts cameras on its front and rear so you can make video calls to people. A great device for storing music, video, photos, ebooks and for generating content and surfing the web. A complete game-changer in my view

Kindle – Amazon’s hugely popular ebook reader is credited for kick starting ebooks properly and really proved to Steve Jobs the pent-up demand for a device like the iPad. Priced from $199 plus shipping (purchase via the Amazon.com site)

Kobo – Probably the best of the stand-alone book readers after the Kindle, the Kobo is cheap, lightweight, has great battery life and actually integrates into a pretty useful online store. Whitcoulls has cleverly done a deal with Kobo, so Whitcoulls online store for ebooks is essentially the Kobo store and you can buy the Kobo at Whitcoulls outlets. However the value-add from the Whitcoulls side isn’t really obvious – buying direct from Kobo makes just as much sense – if not more (discount please?) Price: $199

Motorola Xoom – The saviour of Motorola’s fortunes? The Xoom tablet is a Google Android based tablet that looks to be one of the most promising of the iPad rivals. It went on sale in the US last month, equipped with dual cameras, a dual-core processor for excellent processing performance and built-in mobile broadband access. Who knows when it will get to New Zealand – maybe never, but it keeps Motorola in the game after years of failed products and disappointing sales. Price US$799.