An American Editor

August 12, 2010

Sony, Sony — Wherefore Art Thou?

The “big” news ebook reading devices recently has been Amazon’s new Kindles with their Pearl screen. OK, ebookers got the point: Amazon is moving right along in its attempt to capture the wallets of all ebookers. Which raises the question, here in the United States, “Sony, Sony (and Barnes & Noble, as well) — Wherefore art thou?”

Not a hint, not a misspoken word, not anything leaked to eBookland about a response by Sony and/or B&N to Amazon’s new Kindles. I, for one, am desperately seeking solace, especially from Sony, that there will be new competitive devices forthcoming. As I have made clear in prior articles, I am not a willing Amazon (or Apple) buyer.

But I need to know that my expectations will be met. I love my Sony PRS505 reader. It’s now 2.5 years old and works as well as the day I received it as a holiday gift. It has never been repaired and never failed to delight. My wife waits in the wings to take it over as soon as I buy a new reading device, and my credit cards are itching to be used to do so.

(For what it’s worth, I am also pleased with the service I have received from the Sony Reader eBook Store. A few weeks ago I bought the second and third volumes of Brian Ruckley’s Godless World Trilogy only to discover that the type size couldn’t be enlarged and the fixed size was much too small for my eyes. I assumed it was a publisher problem so I e-mailed the Hachette Book Group this past Sunday, with a copy of my receipt for the books, asking them to fix the problem. On Monday I received a response saying they had checked the original files and could find nothing to cause the problem so they had contacted Sony and asked Sony to check it and contact me. On Wednesday I received a telephone call from Sony saying the problem had been fixed and I needed to redownload the books, which I did. Kudos to both Hachette and Sony. Now, back on track…)

What I have been waiting for is a device with an 8- or 9-inch screen from a company that I think will be around for more than a week or two. Everyone and everyone’s aunt is producing 6-inch screen e-ink devices, and if that is all that Sony or B&N are going to produce, I will not buy a new device until my 505 dies; I’m not looking to buy a new device just for the sake of buying a new device.

I want that larger screen so I can switch my New York Times subscription from print to electronic and read it comfortably. For me, this is the driver behind my desire for a new device. And no, I do not want a multifunction LCD screen device. I already own several.

The situation is this: Amazon is king of the hill right now. It has the leading device and bookstore and gains ground every day. B&N desperately needs to at least maintain its market share and preferably grow it in the one growth area in publishing — ebooks. Every day it remains silent about device plans and every day that passes without a new device becoming available (at least for preorder) is another day that Amazon increases its market lead.

Sony, which isn’t noted for its ebookstore but is noted for its quality electronics, will soon take on the mantle of Wile E. Coyote in the ebook reading device tug-of-wars unless it does two things: First, is put out a firmware update for all of its already sold and available devices that updates the ePub DRM schema. Sony owners need to know that Sony is not asleep and that it is committed to the ePub standard and the way to do this is to release an update that will allow Sony owners to access the B&N ebookstore without stripping DRM. This is the easy fix to owner anxieties for Sony.

Second, it needs to “leak” to the press and the blogosphere information about any forthcoming e-reading devices. Get the buzz going; give ebookers a reason to hold off purchasing a new Kindle. It doesn’t need to be a full-blown, detailed initial announcement but it needs to be sufficient to maintain interest. Perhaps a leak-a-week until the big news event.

The strength of Amazon is in its ebookstore, not in its Kindle. The Kindle simply provides a means to access Amazon’s strong point. Sony’s strength is in its electronic devices, its readers, not in its ebookstore. The ebookstore simply gives Sony Reader owners a place to make use of the device. But unlike Amazon, which craftily takes advantage of its strength, Sony turns its strength into a weakness by being so rigid in its information release schedule. Sony needs to loosen up — especially now that the new Kindles are available and have been getting good press.

B&N needs to find its footing. Contrary to its corporate “wisdom,” releasing its ebooks in ePub form but adding its own flavor of DRM was not a smart move in B&N’s fight against the Amazon behemoth. By adding that flavoring, B&N gave Amazon at least a year’s free ride to build sales share. We will never know with certainty, but I’d bet that had B&N emulated Sony in terms of ePub and DRM flavor, B&N’s ebook market share would be at least 25% higher than it currently is. The battle would have been truly joined between B&N and Amazon and Sony’s ebookstore would be drifting into a netherworld.

Sony needs to regain momentum and spark interest in its products. It needs to immediately begin leaking information about forthcoming products to prevent ebooker defection to the new Kindles. B&N needs to get its act together in nearly every sense, and it, too, needs to begin leaking information about its plans. If they do not maintain ebooker interest in their respective products, it will soon be too late and it will be an Amazon world.

7 Comments »

  1. […] by Rich Adin […]

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    Pingback by Sony, Sony — Wherefore Art Thou? | The Digital Reader — August 12, 2010 @ 5:05 am | Reply

  2. >>>I’d bet that had B&N emulated Sony in terms of ePub and DRM flavor, B&N’s ebook market share would be at least 25% higher than it currently is

    And Sony would have been kicked out of the eBook hardware business with models that simply can’t compete (Pocket Reader = comatose, Touch Edition = murky, Daily Edition = WTF?).

    What’s weird about Amazon coming out with the Pearl screen first is that it’s usually *Sony* out with the most advanced eInk screen before anyone else. Does Sony have a Pearl PLUS screen in the wings?

    I’m not sure Sony has anything in the wings. If nothing gets leaked by the end of this month, that most likely means Sony is withdrawing without saying so publicly.

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    Comment by Mike Cane — August 12, 2010 @ 6:25 am | Reply

  3. I, too, have had, and love, my Sony 505. I have had only 1 book where the large text was somewhere between what the small and medium are on all other books. I didn’t know I there was a way to correct it. Thank you, I’ll keep this article should it happen again.

    Besides buying books from the Sony Store, I found that http://www.Booksonboard has a wider selection. Plus, the format is interesting when one enters a book title or author. Besides which, they offer them in different formats besides ePub.

    As to a 9″ viewing area, I may disagree with you in that it may make it more difficult to read when there are blocks of text and that would slow down my reading speed.

    One thing about the 6″ size, my reading speed is much faster than when I’m holding a pBook. To check the difference in reading rate, on your 505 set it in landscape and you’ll notice what happens with a wider viewing area such as would be on a eBook with a 9″ viewing area in portrait orientation

    So, I believe a 7″ or 7.5 inch size would be the way to go.

    Oh, btw, if you like to read and eat at the same time, take an easel back from a 4 X 6 or 5 x 7 picture frame, use stickyback velcro on 4 corners and you’re in busines.

    Since I do a lot of my reading while on a treadmill and recumbant bike, I’ve othe things that put the book up high enough that I’m not looking down to read while I’m exercising. In this vein, maybe a 9″ will be to large/heavy.

    Alan

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    Comment by Alan J. Zell — August 12, 2010 @ 9:54 am | Reply

  4. Just a stray thought: there will be no such thing as a “used” ebook, will there? Is it likely that people will sell their electronic readers with the downloaded books intact or do the books always stay with the owner in the seller’s records?

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    Comment by Kathleen Jun — August 12, 2010 @ 12:33 pm | Reply

  5. Since Friday, there are rumors of new Sony models for this fall: PRS-350 and PRS-650.
    Nothing known yet, but apparently the 350 will get a touchscreen (still 5″) and possibly 2 GB of RAM (or not); and the 650 will get Wi-Fi.

    Sony still doesn’t want to offer a 505 successor, that is a 6″ (not 5″) reader with NO touchscreen (for the best contrast) and expandable memory. Duh.

    Also, Sony REFUSES to issue updated firmwares with newer editions of ADE that would allow the ePub which have justified text to display the text as specified in the CSS: justified, for God’s sake!

    To my knowledge, Sony’s are the only readers unable to display ePub with justified text. Am I wrong?

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    Comment by beranger — August 16, 2010 @ 5:07 am | Reply

  6. Some good comments here, but I think “wherefore” actually means “why” not “where”. I am pretty sure when Juliet say “Wherefore are thou Romeo?” she’s asking why did he have to be a Montague.

    I am a Kindle owner, and I really wish Amazon would support ePub by at the very least offering a conversion from ePub to Mobi. But I’m glad Sony is still in play because I think competition is good.

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    Comment by karen wester newton — August 17, 2010 @ 8:54 am | Reply

    • Amazom does not support ePub on purpose, and I am 100% sure Amazon will NEVER support ePub.
      This is the main reason I don’t own a Kindle — I heavily rely on ePub e-books.

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      Comment by Béranger — August 17, 2010 @ 12:42 pm | Reply


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