September 01, 2009

Sony Gets Smart

by Alan Beatts

This month's piece is going to be kind of short since I'm working like mad to get the final paint and other work done on the cafe.  But I thought that, given some announcements and events in the last month, it would be interesting to follow up on my article from last month about ebooks.

It seems that someone at Sony has decided to get serious about their ebooks and readers.  And, whoever it is, they're very, very smart.  First off, they have announced three new readers.  One is much like their original reader but with the addition of a touch screen (which adds note taking abilities to the device) and at the same price point, $299.  The other two readers both break new ground, albeit in very different ways.  The Pocket edition brings the screen size down to 5" from 6" and the price to $199.  That price is a major watershed for readers, though not the under-$100 price that people expect will be needed for large scale purchasing by people who aren't either avid readers or tech-heads.  The other reader is the Daily edition which brings wireless connectivity and an even larger screen (7") for the premium price of $399.  But, this reader can finally compete with Amazon's Kindle in the area of on-demand, wireless downloads of books.

But that's not all that Sony has been up to.  Last month they also announced that they were abandoning their proprietary ebook format and switching to EPUB, which is the book industry standard open format.  Also announced was a deal with Google to make all 500,000 of Google's archived public-domain works available for free download.

But Sony's last move was the icing on the cake -- they've made a deal with the American Bookseller's Association to make their readers available to independent bookstores for resale as well as making Sony's ebooks available at wholesale prices for resale on independent bookstore ecommerce sites.  That means Sony will be able to get bookstores to act as a sales force for their hardware, which is a move that Amazon can't even consider.

All in all, Sony is setting itself up as the new power in ebooks.

Also, a number of other businesses are jumping into the market for ebook readers -- Asus, the manufacturer of low cost netbooks like the Eee PC has announced that they are going to produce a dual screen reader and Astak, a British company, is about to ship their 5" screen reader, the EZReader Pocket PRO, which is notable for its low price ($199).

That's about all I have time for right now but before I go, I've got a question for you.  Is all the stuff about ebook and readers of interest?  If so, there is enough going on in that area right now that I could write a column about it every month.  But, I'm not sure if there is enough interest on the part of our customers for it to make sense.  What do you think?  (I should point out that something like that would be in addition to my usual column, not instead of it.)

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