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Thu, Aug 06, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Sony to release cheaper e-reader


Sony’s Reader Pocket Edition is shown in this undated photo.


Electronic books are often mentioned in the same breath as Amazon.com Inc’s Kindle digital reader. Now e-book rival Sony Corp is determined to recapture consumers’ attention with a smaller reader that’s also US$100 cheaper.

Sony was expected to announce yesterday that it would release the Reader Pocket Edition by the end of this month. It will retail for US$199, a third off the price of the basic Kindle model and about US$80 less than Sony’s PRS-505 reader, which will be discontinued.

The device is entering a small but growing market. US e-book sales totaled US$113 million last year — up 68 percent from 2007 but still a fraction of the estimated US$24.3 billion spent on all books, the Association of American Publishers said.

Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division, expects the Pocket Edition’s price tag will lure new consumers who haven’t wanted to shell out for such a device thus far.

Sarah Rotman Epps, a media analyst at Forrester Research, said the Pocket Edition’s price below US$200 breaks an important psychological barrier.

“This is something that is affordable for the holiday season, and I think that you’ll see sales of e-readers outpacing current forecasts,” she said.

She forecast sales of 2 million digital reading devices this year, compared with a little more than 1 million sold by the end of last year.

She doesn’t expect Amazon to rest on its laurels, adding that the online retailer will have to respond to counter Sony’s new price point.

A big difference between Sony’s Readers and Amazon’s Kindle has always been the lack of wireless access for quick and simple downloads of books. The new models are no different: They have to be connected to a computer to acquire books.

For the first time, they will be compatible with PCs and Mac computers, though. Sony will offer current Reader owners a software update to make theirs compatible with both.

As he has indicated in the past, Haber said Sony is working on a wireless model, though he wouldn’t say when.

Sony is also adjusting prices to some of the e-books it sells through its online eBook Store. New releases and best-sellers will now sell for US$10, US$2 less than current prices. Amazon’s Kindle Store offers most best-sellers and new releases for US$10.

Sony’s eBook Store includes more than 100,000 books, as well as a million free public-domain books available from Google Inc through its Google Books project. The Kindle Store has more than 330,000 available titles.

The Kindle can only download books from Amazon’s store, while Sony’s Readers can display texts sold in the “epub” format — an open standard supported by the International Digital Publishing Forum that numerous publishers use to make e-books.

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