Blog Post

Sony Reader launches virtual book club

Sony (s SNE), which has struggled to gain a measurable share of the U.S. ebook market, is launching a virtual book club called the Sony Readers Book Club. Each month the company will choose a book “to feature in a virtual Book Club gathering, an online chat with the author, on the Sony Reader Store Facebook and Twitter pages.”

As a promotional tool, Sony is also choosing 25 “VIP” members. They’ll each receive “a Sony Reader device and cover with light” and the first four ebook selections. Sony will also fly them to Los Angeles in February for “an in-person book club and meet-and-greet” with Michael Connelly, whose The Black Box (published by Hachette’s Little, Brown) is February 2013’s selection. The VIPs must have a strong social media presence and be available for book club chats.

In addition to The Black Box, the selections for the book club are Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Hachette/Little, Brown) Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (HarperCollins) and Molly Ringwald’s When It Happens to You (HarperCollins).

Sony has fallen far behind other e-reader companies in the U.S. and hasn’t been able to keep up. It released a new e-reader, the $129 PRS-T2, in July — but nobody is likely to buy it when Amazon (s AMZN) and Barnes & Noble (s BKS) both introduced front-lit touchscreen models that cost less. The virtual book club might draw in a few readers, but it is unclear why it would convince them to switch to a Sony device, unless they happen to be chosen to receive one for free.

Other retailers have also tested virtual book clubs, with various levels of organization and features. Barnes & Noble has a section for them on its website. Last year, Kobo tested what it called a “book club” giving away one free ebook a month to new device owners, but it was more of a special offer than a discussion feature.