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Sony Launching New "Affordable" e-Reader That No One Will Want

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smallreaderUpdated with comment from Sony: Everyone talks about how great “choice” is, as if having an alternative to the existing status quo is automatically good. But what if the alternative is lame? Then there really isn’t much of a choice, is there? Sony (s sne) today introduced two new e-book readers, including one “affordably” priced at $199 and the other with a touchscreen for $299. But neither option offers the e-reader killer app — wireless access (GigaOM Pro subscription required). That’s right, to compete with Amazon’s (s amzn) Kindle, and the upcoming Barnes & Noble (s bks) e-reader, Sony has lowered its price and added touch.

Amazon’s (s amzn) Kindle, the current hot e-reader, was the first device that let users buy books and download them, quickly and from nearly anywhere. It was a revolution in e-book purchasing. So, unfortunately for Sony, it doesn’t matter how great its devices are. Its new e-readers are stuck in 2006.

The Sony Reader Touch Edition, has a touchscreen, which may be cool — but we’ll have to actually see it in action first. The press release claims users will be able to take notes, highlight, turn pages and more with the “swipe of a finger” or the included stylus. The device also supports handwritten notes, which makes me nervous remembering the nightmare that was the Apple (s aapl) Newton’s handwriting recognition.

Unlike the Kindle, which you can’t buy in a store, you will be able to check out the new Sony Readers at your local Sony Style outlet toward the end of August. Like the Kindle, both Sony devices read PDF and Microsoft (s msft) Word documents, which is nice, but is far from a compelling reason to buy the thing. The new devices, of course, don’t connect to either of the high-profile e-book stores, Amazon’s Kindle store nor Barnes & Noble’s newly launched entry, but instead uses Sony’s proprietary e-book store, which has more than 1 million titles (mostly public domain titles from Google’s Books (s goog) project) — but, because your device has to be connected to your computer to buy books, it’s not the great leap forward we’ve been hoping for. Update: Sony sent us the following statement:

“The touch and pocket are part of a new Reader line. We’ll be releasing further information on a wireless device later this summer.

Wireless is a great feature and it’s something that has really appealed to the early adopters of eReaders. However, while we will soon provide a wireless option, it’s not something we’re ready to talk about today.”

38 Responses to “Sony Launching New "Affordable" e-Reader That No One Will Want”

  1. I live in Canada – whre Kindle is not available – and if I buy one from the U.S. the wirless won’t work in Canada – so to me the Sony ereader is much betetr – until American companies start to care about Canadian consumers and figure out copyright issues re selling in Canada wireless stuff is irrelevant to us

  2. Robert White

    Anyone remember the ‘Rocketbook’? I also have one of Sony’s first entries into the ‘ebook’ market: The DD-1EX.

    Rocketbook died because the market evaporated and they had proprietary issues. Likewise the 1EX which used the Sony MiniDisc format for their ‘books’.

    In an evolutionary scale, the 1EX was the dinosaur of the ebook industry. It still works BTW but there is no content for it anymore.

    For someone to really claim the market, their device has to be both platform and carrier/access agnostic which is the main reason that I don’t own any current generation ebook readers, no matter how much I long to own one. (The ‘need’ has nearly outpaced the desire)

    Sony’s 505 was tied to Windows and their proprietary software and Kindle is joined at the hip with Amazon. If Apple’s device pulls off what they did with the iPod, then their ebook reader will be as ubiquitous as the iPod. Sure, there will be religists that wouldn’t buy an Apple product but for those that have, they have the ability to use their own content and Apple’s on the same device. (Having to use the iTunes application to load content isn’t the deal breaker for me as it adds value to the equation)

    As far as DRM for the content, history has proven that DRM is dated and just wrong. The public’s reaction to DRM has been rather pronounced negative (Just waiting for the MPAA wetdream of killing HDTV and DVR operations for ‘certain content’ to land like a turd at a black tie dinner is killing me) and the inclusion of it on any reader is likely to stifle its acceptance to a large degree.

    The ‘perfect’ reader will be ‘open’ (no ties to specific vendors for support or content) and ‘available’ and accept ‘all’ content from music to video to static ‘book’ pages. Bring me that device, even without wireless, and they will dominate the market. Make the device as ubiquitous as a freeway is to any car, and people will beat down their door.

    As bad as I wanted the Rocketbook, I am glad that I didn’t purchase one although I came very close spurred on by the potential of that little DD-1EX.

  3. I’m thinking about buying an e-book because I’m a Brit living and working in Spain. I’ve got 25 boxes of books in storage in the UK, and the only cost effective way of buying English language books here in by post.

    So for me an e-reader would be a godsend, I could read lots of the out of copyright stuff for free and buy new stuff quickly. The wireless option is a complete irrelevance for me: I do read pretty quickly but I think I can organise my life so that I always have something on the reader without needing to do it mid bus-ride. I’d rather be reading on the bus than trying to connect to some 3G network.

    More important to me is the versatility to buy from different sources and swap backwards and forwards from my laptop easily. And if you can load from your laptop you don’t need the annoying keyboard on the front of your book… I doubt I’d buy a Kindle even if they were available here in Europe.

  4. Brenden

    Having wireless on the device is great if you’re reading the paper or a blog. I get the NY Times every day when I’m traveling, for $0.75 vs $2.00. If I had to sync the device to my Mac to read the paper I just wouldn’t do it.

  5. L Walton

    I currently use an iPhone with eReader and have found that I enjoy using the device. Downside is screensize. The 6inch of the PRS600 (Touch) is attractive.

    Wireless is a non-issue as well. I’ve found it much easier to download to my Mac and sync from there. I am not smitten with Kindle so far (nor is it available in Australia). I CAN get one of these into Australia even if Sony is slow off the mark to enter this market (They still don’t sell old models here) and use the other ebook stores.

    For me?…If the screen resolution is good, the contrast is excellent and the form factor is truly portable, then I will look further.

  6. johnney

    Not ONE company actually makes an ‘e-reader’ properly; ie make it simple, universal, and drm free with multiple COMMON formats (lit, txt, pdf, html, etc).
    I have an entire 120 GB hd which holds ‘ebooks’; most all of which can be read quite easily on my color ts winmobile phone. All I really need is a bigger screen. It’s laughable to suggest people buy an overpriced gadget that simply asks them to download crap at a price that will only play on that one device (iphones cheap get em here).
    Any common cellphone these days can be an ebook reader. Creating new locked to device formats of books is right up there with paying a monthly fee to listen to music when any asshole knows how to turn the radio on. In a nutshell, ereaders are just another chinese produced piece of plastic which will only find their way into a landfill or worse, sooner than later.

  7. why would anybody buy a mono chrome ebook when you can buy fully functional net book at same price ……..just use on-line library like safari to read books ….what a waste

  8. @Jacob –

    “How often do users buy books? Aren’t we talking about something that might happen one or two times a month for the majority of users?”

    Most readers I know, avid readers, buy lots of books. And generally, when they’re travelling, they buy more. Remember, 3G/mobile broadband integration isn’t the a giant cost burden on a device where the annual spend on content, I would imagine, is in in upper hundreds. Most I know with a Kindle buy lots of books and they buy much more because of the impulse-enabling “pushbutton” that 3G anywhere access enables.

    I disagree – I think you could make the argument, pretty strongly, 3G has a multiplier effect on the amount of content purchased with eBooks.

  9. From a customer perspective, the important thing about a book is reading it, not buying it.
    As far as reading goes, there’s no big difference between the Kindle and Sony devices.
    That you can buy your books directly from the Kindle device may be an advantage, but it is *more than offset* imo by the fact that you’re stuck with Amazon.
    I bought my first Sony Reader back in 2006, and ever since I’ve been using it to read not just books but also articles (in pdf and word formats mostly), and even long blog posts – simply because it’s more comfortable to read on than a computer screen.
    With so much content online, it makes a lot of sense to have a device that you can load anything onto, from anywhere. (Not to mention that you don’t want your bookshop to delete your books for you…)
    So I’m one that wants. And I don’t want a Kindle.

    • Fundamentally different markets. You don’t have a library of thousands of books ripped from your dead-tree editions, you buy them one at a time as you read them and you likely only read them once. With music, you rips the thousands of songs from your CD collection onto your iPod and that constitutes the majority of you listening.

      Books aren’t music, and the devices have different needs, and mobile broadband is one of the key ingredients that made the Kindle work.

    • Mishan

      See my comment above. Also, the difference between buying a track and a book is huge. You buy an album and that is about 75 Mb. You buy a book, it is a couple of megabytes. Price is pretty much the same $9.99.

      Of course, you might think differently.

      • Jacob Varghese

        Om and Michael,

        How often do users buy books? Aren’t we talking about something that might happen one or two times a month for the majority of users?

        Clearly, this device would benefit from the addition of Wifi, but mobile broadband is overkill.


    • Bookish

      I agree. Best comment. The wireless is actually killing Amazon in most of the world because it requires deals with telecoms people that they don`t seem to be able to close. That combined with Amazon`s attempt to use drm to control the market (unlike Apple’s use of an open transferable format with the ipod) means that I am much more likely to go with Sony than Kindle. Sony is going with epub and looks much more open and therefore trustworthy to invest money in buying a library from and making notes on books in. I want my library to be mine and transferable to multiple devices not be owned by a company that pulls 1984.

  10. Greg Vassie

    Sony is also looking at a worldwide market, their e-Readers are widely available outside of the US. The Kindle is (and the B&N reader will be) only available in the US.

  11. Anonymous

    How is Sony’s store more “proprietary” than Amazon’s?

    AZW is a closed, proprietary format used by a single vendor. With Sony, you have a choice of formats even if you buy DRM’d books (ePub, BBeB and Secure PDF), some of which (ePub) are open standards. Or, you can choose to avoid DRM and use a completely open standard like ePub.

    With Sony, I have a choice of stores. I can buy from Sony (of course), BooksOnBoard, Waterstones (in the UK), and others. I can shop around for the best price. With the Kindle, I can buy from… erm… Amazon. Or Amazon. And it has to be – no other International stores allowed.

    So is Sony a lame alternative? No – it’s a better alternative. The only advantage the Kindle has is convenience, and if you’re outside of wireless range that evaporates into nothing.

  12. Jacob Varghese

    I am really not getting why an ebook reader must have a 3g connection (Whispernet)?
    It’s a nice-to-have feature, but think about how often it’s actually used by the average user – maybe once or twice a month?

    I think Sony is on the right track with this e-reader. Cheap and touch are killer features for me.

    The only missing must-have is the ability to use the Amazon Kindle store.
    Since they are not a hardware company, Amazon should allow other manufacturers’ devices to access the Kindle store.

  13. Hmmm…. action doesn’t match with the words from Sony. I remember an article from Stacy on GigaOm (June this year) where she pointed that Snoy CEO says

    “In the 20th century, this company created great champion products … In the 21st century, other companies took our hardware like the Walkman and added network capability and turned it into the iPod,” Stringer said.”We are not going to be beaten again in the network age.”

    And now they are relasing e-Book reader without wireless access.

  14. The Kindle is said to be the iPod of books, and the iPod has not had a wireless connection for years (only iPod Touch/iPhone now has)
    I have a Kindle 2 and for me Wireless is not the killer feature at all. In fact the current wireless implementation is annoying, as you are forced to buy eBooks wirelessly and therefore you can not buy them when out of US or Sprint coverage.

    Rather than a “locked wireless” feature, I would prefer an truly open e-book reader, able to shop from more stores than Amazon (from Amazon too of course) and with pdf native support. Ah… and with no back door please!

    The new Sony models are welcome. More competition can only be good for us readers. The immediate effect has been the drop in Kindle price :)

    • Jose

      To be fair, iPod came out at a time when bandwidth, especially on the wireless networks was pretty restricted. It would have been horrible user experience and not to mention costly. The wireless download services have failed mostly because they came to market too soon.

      I think the fixed wireless connectivity of Kindle is its killer app. I have bought a book when told about it at say while having a coffee. Most of the time I would forget the name of the book and wait forever.

      Regardless, I like the Amazon model and also like that there are rivals who are going to put pressure on them to open it up. Let’s just put it this way: Amazon is going to be degrees more open than Apple ;-) or Sony

      • Om,

        I can counter your example – all Sony nneds is to add a “Want it” list so you can enter the title immediately and then buy it next time the eBook synchs with a PC. Might even work with the touch screen pen input.


  15. Well. I’ve got a 505 (LOVE IT) and I want both new devices. I don’t miss the wireless — the whole point is stocking up on a bunch of books in one reader and taking them wherever so buying through the device is just a convenience factor. If I’m going anywhere my laptop is going with me so again no connectivity is missed. The wireless aspect is a feature I’d like to have ‘just because’ but it’s not something I see as really necessary and I don’t want it to be stuck on a private network only. That said, the Kindle is too attached to Amazon. I want all the readers to break free from a single story regardless.

  16. As long as Sony made them available worldwide, I’m happy. So are the rest of the world, I believe. Kindle is great or so I heard, but its US-only exclusivity really hurts us. I hope Sony will do a good job distributing it worldwide.

  17. The lack of wireless is actually a “feature” in the mind of many people now. I’d rather manually sync my reader via usb than allow Amazon to remotely access (and modify) the contents of the reader at any time via Whispernet. Look into the whole 1984 involuntary recall fiasco Amazon got caught up in.

  18. jfwhite77

    @sundar – do you actually have a Kindle? Have you ever used one to download and read books? We have 3 at our house. A friend of ours is a grandmother who just bought 2 for her grandkids. It is not perfect but I can tell you the connection/relationship aspect with Amazon is exquisite. I love mine and use it all the time – in Starbucks, commuting, sitting in the sun by the waterfront. Many companies are focusing too much on the reader (as Sony will soon learn, sadly) and missing the customer connection.
    Around 35% of Amazon’s current book sales are for the Kindle editions. That is not a small number. Even in spite of the (way overblown) 1984 fiasco, Amazon customers remain some of the most loyal in the industry. I think this is with very good reason.

  19. This reader device whether Kindle or any from Sony is NOT GOING TO BE A MASS MARKET device anytime soon. I do not see anyone wanting to carry another device to read just books.

    • @Sundar – why not? People carry actual physical books, lots of them, everywhere they go, and they’re ALOT heavier and take up more room. The Kindle and e-books are competing with that.

      The trick is if you can get the reader to go electronic, and if you do, then the discussion becomes what the best device is best for that. Is it a multipurpose/swiss-army-knife type of device like a webpad or netbook, or is it something that gives you an experience that best approximates reading a book. That, quite frankly, is the BIG question for e-books.

      From what I’ve seen, hardcore readers want an experience closest to that of a book. I don’t think a swiss-army-knife product is going to be the big reader device market, but instead an affordable e-book reader.

  20. Jordan, I wish to differ from the opinions presented by you in this post.

    I think Kindle alternatives will serve a big growing market where users want

    1. Some company not to wirelessly access the device without the user’s permission (1984 fiasco anyone?)

    2. To not pay a premium in advance for Whispernet access (or the like) when they will probably not be using it that much. (Users will be OK with loading the eBooks they want when they have access to Wi-fi or the computer)

    3. The ability to read PDFs bootlegged from the recesses of the Internet (and not keep paying some company to upload it from the computer back onto their purchased device)

    Like it or not, the third point will be of utmost importance to any device hoping to cater to the 15 – 30 age group.

    That said, I am looking forward to eBook readers which have the PixelQi screen. They wont have the price premium attached with the eInk screens, and hopefully we will see the price point of the eBook readers dropping below the $150 mark.

  21. Good point. But I do wonder whether the intended market – those who are voracious readers but casual tech users – would really see the lack of wireless as a detriment. To a tech nerd, certainly, this lacks the cachet and convenience of a kindle. But to the person who’s used to buying Harlequin romances or Victorian lit at a second hand book store? Wouldn’t this be an upgrade for them?