By the middle of this year I expect we’ll have a big selection of e-book readers to choose from. There were dozens of readers on display at the CES 2010 this month, and it seems that every gadget maker is working on one for the market. I am still a firm believer that in the e-book world content is king, and that just having a reader on the market is not that big a deal. A reader with little available content is just a hunk of plastic, consumers want the ability to get the books they crave. Giant e-book sellers like Barnes & Noble (s bks) and Amazon (s amzn) have a big advantage in this area, with each offering hundreds of thousands of titles on their respective online stores. But the formats between the two stores are not compatible, and like any other retail segment competition could help keep prices competitive. Don’t believe that? I was in the market for some new e-book releases, and was surprised to find how widely the prices varied.
First up I was in the mood to pick up James Patterson’s latest — Witch and Wizard. I hit up Amazon, B&N, the eReader store (a subsidiary of B&N), Fictionwise (another subsidiary of B&N) and the Sony Reader Store. Here’s what I found:
While the three major e-book sellers have obviously gravitated towards the $9.99 price for new releases, in the future if a consumer owns a reader that is tied into one store then there is no guarantee the price will be competitive. A lot of reader makers are embracing ePUB format for books, and that’s a good thing, but that’s only half the battle for new releases. These books will almost certainly be infested with a DRM scheme, and just because a given reader can handle the ePUB format it will still stick the owner with whatever DRM system it supports. That will likely tie a given reader to a particular store. And as you can see, prices may vary.
It’s almost looking like the smart money is on putting multiple readers on a given device, like an iPhone (s aapl), so that content can be read from more than one source. Of course this makes keeping an online library much harder for the consumer.