A few weeks ago, fellow analyst Steve Sechrist reported that eBooks are at the "tipping point" over hard cover — but what about the penetration of the eBooks themselves, and the relative competition? A recent article in the IEEE Spectrum compared eBooks from nine different manufacturers, and surprisingly rebuffed Sony, one of the first entrants into the business. Are they still in the running, or are they destined to become a casualty of a possible upcoming cull, a result of full-global marketing?
Insight Media Consultant
While Sony excels in the sale of consumer electronics, their eReaders have not come close to achieving the penetration of that of market leaders Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook). Although they refrain from giving actual sales information, some analysts believe that Amazon.com will sell some 3.7 million Kindles this year, while Sony is thought to have just five percent of the US market for this product.
By all appearances, Amazon and B&N have widely overtaken both Sony and newer entrants in the field, a success that appears to come down to three factors: a ready supply of content, ease of acquiring it, and marketing strength. While Sony can access content that is every bit as impressive as Amazon and B&N, the average consumer no doubt sees the other two companies as having a broader supply of it, whether it’s true or not; chalk that up to early content deals and savvy marketing of the content. As for ease of content access, the WiFi and 3G components of the leaders’ devices make downloading content a trivial task, one that doesn’t require a tethered computer. Currently, Sony only provides this functionality (3G) in their largest, most expensive Reader Daily Edition; the lower priced Pocket Edition and Touch Edition both require a USB connection to a PC in order to browse, order and download content.
Well, Sony isn’t ready to throw in the towel any time soon, if recent rumors turn out to be true. Internet sources are reporting that the existing Sony Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-300) and Reader Touch Edition (PRS-600) will both get competitive updates: a new PRS-650 is thought to be in the works, adding Wi-Fi and possibly 3G. It and a new PRS-350 Pocket Edition are believed to also have longer battery life (formerly at about two weeks), larger memory (2GB as opposed to 512MB), higher-contrast and faster displays that may use E-Ink’s Pearl technology, and smaller form factors, too, at less than 1cm (0.4 inches) thick.
Is it a case of too little, too late? Sony may be hedging its bets by upping the product features, together with shoring up the business elsewhere. In a move that may help to improve far-East sales, Sony has entered into a joint venture with several content-related companies in Japan, including the Asahi Shimbun Co., the second most circulated of the five national newspapers in Japan. According to Nikkei Electronics Asia, the new group plans to become a service company to construct and operate an e-book content distribution platform; the service is expected to start before the end of 2010.
It looks like Sony, having learned from its eBook experiences in the West, wants to create an "open" organization with content coming from multiple sources, instead of the "walled garden" that seems to be working in the United States and elsewhere. If the model succeeds in Japan, it could inspire similar services in other culturally focused nations.