Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Sony Reader Finally Arrives

Since this spring, I've been nattering about the pending release of the Sony Reader, the long-awaited eBook reader that will reportedly dominate the market. Sony has delayed the Reader's release several times.

No more. Yesterday, I received an email from Sony that said:

"Introducing the Sony Reader. Now you can take all your books on vacation, not just the skinny ones. The new Sony Reader holds about 80 electronic books — and hundreds more with optional Memory Stick® media or SD Memory Card — but only weighs about 9 ounces. And thanks to electronic paper technology, it's easy to read. Shipping on or before October 31st."

Sony also launched its CONNECT bookstore, where a reader can purchase books to download on his/her new Reader. Sony says they will eventually have 10,000 titles available on their new site. The electronic bookstore can be found at:

The Reader will sell for $349 but, during the introductory release period, Sony will offer a $50 eBook credit at CONNECT for any Reader purchased and registered before 12/31/06.

I've said for months that the only thing holding the eBook business back was the lack of a viable reading device. According to today's Publishers Weekly, the Reader's "use of E-Ink delivers a sharp, clear reading experience on a six-inch screen and it measures 5 inches by 7 inches, is half an inch thick and weighs about 9 ounces. The player can hold approximately 80 books and has enough battery life to support 7,500 page turns."

While the Sony Reader promises to provide a better reading experience, I still see two major problems with it:

1) The price. Until readers embrace eBook technology, a $349 price is too high. An introductory price in the range of $199 would have a better chance of selling.

2) The proprietary nature of available books for the Reader. The new Reader can only read books downloaded from the CONNECT site. This is a major problem, IMHO. Sony's best market for the Reader are people who are already reading eBooks. That means readers who are now downloading from online publishers like Ellora's Cave or from retail sites like Fictionwise. To ask readers to fork over $349 and then insist that they buy their books from one site is a monumental issue. Shades of Microsoft's closed source approach.

The issue of e-text formats is still a problem plaguing these devices. There are a dozen proprietary formats out there, including eReader, Mobipocket, Adobe and Microsoft. A device that can read multiple formats is obviously more desirable than a device that can only read one format.

Amazon has its own eReader, which it is calling Kindle (using Amazon's proprietary format, Mobipocket). The release date is not yet known. See my post for September 13, 2006 for what we know about the Kindle.

Panasonic is talking about its upcoming eReader called Words Gear. Very little is known about it yet except that the price will be in the range of Sony's Reader and that it is expected to launch in Japan later this year.

I won't be buying a Sony Reader any time soon. I'm waiting for an affordable reader with a good display that can read multiple formats.

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