@ eBook Summit: Sony’s Haber: You Can’t Make Money Selling E-Books For $9.99; DRM Is A Good Thing

Steve Haber, president of Sony’s Digital Reading Business Division, faced some sharp questions at the MediaBistro eBook Summit about playing catch up to Amazon’s Kindle. Put on the defensive by both the interviewer, PCMag.com’s Lance Ulanoff, and the audience, Haber was asked point blank: why is Sony (NYSE: SNE) behind Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) when it had developed the e-reader first? As Haber noted, Sony first released its digital reader in Japan in 2003 and then unveiled it in the U.S. three years later. Slightly taken aback, Haber said these are still the early days of the digital book business. “I disagree with that point; your perception is wrong,” Haber told an audience questioner who sought to get him to explain how Amazon has greater market share. Finally, he conceded, “I think they’ve got mindshare, but that dynamic changes quickly. I think competition is good for everyone and the exposure will drive all of our businesses.”

Rather than taking direct aim at the Kindle, Haber decried the emphasis on the $9.99 price point for e-books. “The $9.99 price point is not a money-maker,” he said. “Certain bestsellers are sold at that price for retail, competitive reasons. But you need to have a range. You could go from $10 to $20 even to $100 for an e-book. There’s no sweet spot and it’s certainly not $9.99. When you walk into a bookstore and there are a range of prices. It should be the same for an e-book store.” Haber went on to defend the of DRM, which he doesn’t see going away for awhile. “You need an orderly process to sell books and DRM makes that possible, mainly because it allows content creators and distributors to make money from that content.”

Haber was also asked how the introduction of a PC tablet — either by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) or elsewhere — would affect the e-reader market. “Reading on an LCD or PC screen is not as cozy an experience as an e-reader,” he said. “E-readers approximate paper in way that regular computer screens can’t. That’s why they started taking off now. People always resisted the idea of having to read a long case study or the entire Sunday newspaper on their computer. As for the tablet, there will be many devices. Some will be Swiss Army Knives, trying to do more than just books and text, while there will still be a distinct need for e-readers’ role as well.”

As the conversation turned to the holiday season, Haber said that Sony should just about make Christmas deliveries for its Daily Edition wireless e-reader: “If we get it out to customers by 11:59 PM on December 24th, we consider that being in good shape.”