The rumors earlier this month were spot on. Sony is indeed releasing a redesigned and upgraded suite of its three digital readers—the 5”screen Pocket Edition; 6” screen Touch Edition and 7”screen Daily Edition—offering full optical touch screen functionality, nonglare black & white e-ink display along with reduced size and weight. The new devices are not only stylish—they come in silver, black and pink aluminum skins—but also offer stepped up power, crisp page-turning and increased storage capacity. Only one model, the top of the line Daily Edition, offers 3G/wireless. The Pocket and Touch Editions will be available beginning today; the Daily Edition in November.
Despite the frenzy to cut prices in the digital reader marketplace, Sony seems determined not to go down that road. The Pocket Edition, with USB cable file transfer, is $179; the Touch Edition, also with USB cable file transfer and expandable storage, is $229; and the Daily Edition will sell for $299. Despite lowering its prices earlier in the summer, Sony has effectively returned the devices to their former, higher price points. It will be interesting to see if these prices hold in a market full of devices selling for significantly less. By the holiday shopping season it’s likely that there will be full color backlit LCD reading devices selling for $99 and the price of the b&w Kobo Reader, formerly $150, has now been lowered to $99.
In an interview with Steve Haber, president of Sony’s Digital Reading Reading division at the Sony offices in New York, he downplayed the lack of wireless on the Touch and Pocket editions and said that consumer research showed “full touch screens were rated more important than wireless.” In fact, Haber said that sales of the original Touch Edition took off, despite the fact it was more expensive. “People will pay more for features they want,” Haber said, emphasizing that Sony has focused on “making the product right and don’t shoot for price points.” Despite their higher price or the lack of wireless functionality on two of the devices, Haber said Sony believes they can reach consumers with solidly built devices designed to allow fully immersive reading. “Our research tells us consumers want their devices to be ‘like a book,’ what does that mean? It means they have to allow the reader to be fully engaged in the content. “
The devices can also boast a host of cool features including handwriting recognition, translation dictionaries, print-out capability, improved batter-life and multiple device content synchronization. All devices are gray-scale and Haber pointed to improved contrast and brightness as well as a better PDF reader. Sony is also releasing Reader Desktop Edition, a desktop client app for Mac, PC and iPhone, iPad, iPad Touch and Android mobile phones that will allow consumers to read and track their books on multiple devices.
Sony is also working to relaunch the Sony Reader store (Sony customers can also buy books at any retailer that supports the epub format) which offers 1.7 million book titles in addition to newspaper subscriptions and a host of new publications, including Publishers Weekly, the Guardian and The Harvard Business Review. And Haber said Sony is launching its suite of redesigned reading devices internationally, announcing plans to offer the device in Italy, Spain, Australia, Japan and China. Sony Readers are available for sale in more than 10,000 retail outlets in the U.S.
“We were in the digital reading market early,” said Haber of Sony’s history in the market, “but the eco system wasn’t there.” But Haber said, “now we’re seeing a paradigm shift that we’ve seen in other industries. It’s a new business and we’re building a new relationship to our customers. In five years there will be more content sold digitally than in print. It’s a very competitive space but we’re offering a value proposition, not just a price.”