Something interesting happened over the last two days.
I've been exchanging emails with another writer. She questioned me on the future of e-books. I said that, while e-books have been gradually gaining in acceptance, I thought the tipping point would occur when a viable e-book reading device came on the market. I mentioned the device that I blogged about in January during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas: Sony's Reader.
To date, there really hasn't been an e-book reader that consumers have embraced. Because these devices have been hard to read or large and bulky, they haven't caught on. Most people who download e-books are still reading them on laptops and PDAs.
Sony announced the Reader at the show in Las Vegas, indicating it would be available in the spring of 2006. "Around the size of a paperback but only a half-inch thick, the Reader has a 6-inch gray-scale screen and is easy to hold at less than 9 ounces." Its expected retail price was between $300 and $400.
"'This new display technology allows for long immersive reading, the type of which you wouldn't want to do on a computer screen,'" according to a Sony spokesman. "'It's very close to looking at the printed page.'" (USA Today)
The Reader's internal memory can store approximately 80 books, and extra memory cards can expand that storage to hundreds of books. USA Today indicated that a single battery charge will permit the users to read up to 7,500 pages.
I've been waiting for the release of the Reader because I'm eager to see if the reports about its easy-reading screen are true. Recently, there've been rumors that the release would be delayed.
Yesterday's Publishers Weekly had an announcement that Borders book chain has agreed to sell Sony's Reader this summer.
This morning, my friend Jeanne Laws sent me an email containing an announcement by Barnes & Noble that they would NOT be selling the Reader.
Frankly, I was a little surprised. I could understand Sony negotiating with the two rival chains and making its best deal with one of them. I could certainly understand Borders making a glowing announcement of the joint marketing agreement. I could even understand the Associated Press seeking comment from Barnes & Noble (Borders' biggest rival) and Amazon (the largest seller of e-books) on the deal. Amazon responded the way I'd expect. They will not be selling the Reader and didn't return calls for comments.
However, it seemed that Barnes & Noble went out of their way to snub both Borders and Sony. "We have sold e-readers before and they haven't done particularly well," the B&N spokeswoman said to the AP.
I dug around a little bit today, trying to find out more. That's when I learned that Sony will not be marketing their downloadable books through Borders. Oh, Borders will sell gift cards/pre-paid cards good for use at Sony's online store (http://musicstore.connect.com/), but Sony is not marketing their e-books through their new partner.
Sony has been criticized for missing the boat on downloadable music. Apple stole their thunder with the iPod. They are clearly hoping to catch the wave with e-books. However, if they are going to set up kiosks inside Borders to sell the Reader, why the hell not also sell the latest bestsellers at the same time?
Even the movie industry--that bastion of reluctance to change--is catching on. We'll talk more about that soon (see 4/18).