Sony Reader goes “Daily” with Kindle competitor

During its previously scheduled product launch of the Sony Reader Pocket ($199) and Touch ($299) Editions today, Sony dropped its would-be Kindle-killer on the market, a $399 AT&T 3G-enabled Reader called “Daily Edition” that will ship in time for Christmas, if an e-book reader is on your last-minute shopping list. This Christmas, it may very well be.

Does 7-inch Daily Edition, which sells for $100 more than the 6-inch Kindle 2, bring enough oomph to the market to make it a must-have for the holidays? The answer will depend entirely upon whether Sony’s move to ePub format and close embrace of Google Books, which can be downloaded free through its online bookstore, will tip the buyer’s decision in favor of Sony. While it is a 3G-enabled reader, comparable to the Kindle and its WhisperNet service provided by Sprint, the Sony Daily Edition will not allow Web browsing, which the Kindle does, according to various sources, notably Publishers Weekly.

The Sony press release suggests that there might be an upgrade path to full Web connectivity: “There are no monthly fees or transaction charges for the basic wireless connectivity and users still have the option to side load personal documents or content from other compatible sites via USB.” I have queried Sony PR about what “basic wireless connectivity” means and whether there will be options for additional service. It isn’t entirely clear that Google Books will be downloadable over the air or only via PC download—since there is no revenue to support 3G downloads, this needs to be clarified.

Unlike the Kindle, the Sony Daily Edition offers handwritten note entry (stylus included with the system) and built-in links to local libraries, which can “loan” electronic copies for up to 28 days through the Overdrive.com library collections service. A social network for discussing literary. And the devices will be available at physical retail outlets, including Best Buy and WalMart, making it easier to try than the Kindle.

Amazon is prepared to counter the perceived accessibility of Sony’s ePub strategy by both opening the Kindle readers to ePub and making its proprietary format readable on a wider range of devices. Sony may have the cheapest e-reader with the $199 Pocket Edition (sans wireless connectivity), but this still looks like a fight that is going to be waged on Amazon’s terms.

The Lost Symbol will be a dollar sign

The Da Vinci Code sold more than 81 million copies worldwide. Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol, will be released simultaneously in hardcover ($16.17 at Amazon, a 46 percent discount) and for Kindle ($9.99) on September 15th. Five million paper copies of the book will be printed, one digital copy will be encrypted several million times. Likewise, Sony is certain to offer the book at the same price or lower in its e-book store, taking its losses on The Lost Symbol to drive sales of its Reader devices.

What we will witness is a test of how far hardware vendors will go to increase unit sales of their respective devices. Since Random House will collect between $12 and $13 per copy from digital channels, the hit to Sony and Amazon’s top-lines will be substantial. Each will pay millions to keep The Lost Symbol at the top of their device’s bestseller list. The symbol lost in all this hoopla will certainly be a dollar sign, but it may result in greater uptake in e-book formats generally and, perhaps, a “winner” among the current dedicated e-book readers.

The Lost Symbol is the title that could make or break the current generation of e-reader devices, firming up reader’s investment in the platform and format in which they read digital books. I don’t think that Dan Brown’s latest will sell millions of Kindles on its own, but it will be the title that converts some readers to Kindle or Sony Reader. Both Sony and Amazon see royalties paid on this book as a sunk cost they expect to recoup from hardware sold. If the hardware revenues don’t follow, this book may convince one or both of them that dedicated e-readers aren’t the best business.

If there are approximately 3 million Kindle-compatible devices (Kindle hardware and iPhones running Kindle for iPhone) and some 500,000 other dedicated e-reader devices, as well as perhaps six million other software-only readers installed, electronic sales of The Lost Symbol could account for up to five million copies, matching the first print run. That will be a huge accomplishment.

However, because e-reader hardware is still too expensive for most consumers, e-book sales will likely be slower than print sales after the initial release, especially when paperback editions appear. The key market to watch then will be e-reader application installs on smartphones and computers. Since e-book applications that run on phones and PCs carry little migration cost, we can expect to see an explosion in sampling of reader apps if digital copies of The Lost Symbol are going to pace paperback sales. The only possible channel through which The Lost Symbol could continue to sell 50 percent of total copies sold in digital format is e-readers on phones and PCs.

In the long run, the economics of reading will drive adoption of common formats not incompatible e-reader hardware. I’d be very surprised if Dan Brown’s next book isn’t offered in a single digital format—most likely ePub—that can be read on any device or in any e-reader application. By then, Kindle will be compatible with ePub, because Amazon’s goal is to grow share of books sold, not just to be a e-reader hardware vendor.

Noted News and Opinion, June 23, 2009

A few of the postings and articles that crossed the wires worth reading today:

Kindle Myths, Misinformation responds to yesterday’s GearDiary posting about Amazon download limits. Frankly, defending Amazon could become a full time job for a large team of people, and it appears to be iReaderReview’s gig. More power to them. However, when I sent a query to Amazon PR about the download limit story, I got no response, and “no comment” isn’t a barrier to reporting claims by a customer who has spoken to customer service and documented his inability to download Kindle titles. iReaderReview claims the accusation has been retracted (“Number of downloads is not restricted. Even the person who started this rumor is admitting as much now.”), but provides no pointer to the retraction. In fact, as explained in my previous posting, Dan Cohen published a clarification that makes clear limits do exist—he has been told by Amazon employees that a title may not be downloaded to an undisclosed number of devices. This, apparently, after several ass-covering fibs, like “the server failed.”

If you are going to make a statement, such as “the person who started this rumor is admitting as much now,” you should back it up with a link. If you exaggerate, you should rethink why you write, because it’s not helpful to spread disinformation. The article goes on with some valid points and a lot of keyboard diarrhea about claims, many fabricated from the writer’s agenda, against Amazon. Let Amazon defend itself, report the truth to the best of your ability, Switch11 (the writer at iReaderReview). Moreover, drop the questions of Amazon’s being “evil,” because no one can make a factual statement about a company’s moral and ethical condition—it will always be a matter of opinion until people die because of willful indifference. Not going to happen with Kindle issues. TeleRead, summarizing several of the things about which Amazon should be criticized, agrees that the iReaderReview article is a misplaced screed.

If Switch11 is an Amazon employee writing, and we can’t know because we don’t have a name to check (“Hello, Amazon, does ‘Switch11’ work there?”), the company should put a muzzle on them until they learn to stick to the factual truth and leave customers to discuss their experiences freely.

Rob Pegoraro of The Washington Post reviewed the Kindle DX this past Sunday. He finds it wanting, despite its strengths, because of price and some of the restrictions it introduces because of limited support for non-Amazon formats and DRM. His observation about the amount of storage in the DX, “how many books do most people need to carry at once,” is shortsighted. If we’d said that a PC would one day ship with a Terabyte of storage in 1990, it would have sounded crazy, but we find ways to fill all the memory we can get.

Teleread finds a Sony Reader app that lets users customize the device. Paul Biba points to a cool tool, PRSCustomizer.

There is a ton of e-book information and plentiful links to related reading at The Know Something Project.

GalleyCat points to NPR’s call for best beach books of all time, which will be featured online and on-air on July 30.

ReadWriteWeb writes about its discussion with iRex CEO Hans Bron, who is talking about the company’s focus on the business-to-business and professional markets. They talk about the DR 1000‘s note-taking capabilities, iRex’s announcement it is working on color readers, and the missed opportunities by iRex because it does not have an e-book store.

I think the challenges iRex face include: Lowering the price of its devices, especially the Wacom-enabled products; Providing better note organization (I don’t agree that handwritten notes are “easier” than typing on a Kindle, as ReadWriteWeb argues—both are hard to use; Keeping its customers focused on current product, rather than trying to compete on future versions, such as a color e-reader, because it freezes buyers considering what they offer today.

The Mirror has video of the Cool-er eBook device. No review, just a walkthrough of the device features to music. Gizmodo had a review of the $250 Cool-er in May.