Sony's Big Announcement: Open Content, Strong eReader Lineup For Holiday Season

At a press conference this morning at the New York Public Library, Sony announced:

 

  • The much-anticipated debut of its wireless Reader, the Daily. At long last, Sony announced what the market has been waiting for--a wireless Reader device, which will run on AT&T's 3G cellular network. (AT&T will also power the network for the Plastic Logic eReader when it comes out next year.) Like its brethren, the Sony Pocket and Touch Readers, the Daily has Sony's hallmark high-quality design, and frankly, makes the Kindle look like an oversized calculator. Its touch-operated 7" screen has a vertical orientation evocative of a newspaper column. Sony didn't announce its content partners, but many of our newspaper and magazine clients have told us they are in conversations with Sony and we expect additional announcements later this year. The device will ship in time for the holidays and will sell for $399.
    • Our take: The new screen size is an elegant solution to the problem of how to optimize for newspaper and magazine content without building an oversized, ungainly device. (The Daily is slightly smaller than the Kindle 2, and with its built-in cover weighs the same as the Kindle 2.) Unlike the Kindle, the Daily is a touchscreen. Even with the higher price, this is an attractive product for consumers who value Sony's design and touchscreen along with wireless access.
  • Better integration of free public library eBooks into its store. Sony has partnered with Overdrive to integrate public library access into the Sony eBookstore. From the "Library Finder" feature in Sony's store, users type in their zip code and are directed to the eBook borrowing page of their local library, where they can check out an eBook (in PDF or ePub format) for 21 days. Eventually, Sony's Reader devices will also include this integrated library search and borrowing function, but for now library books will need to be sideloaded into the device.
    • Our take: This is not just good PR and a public service, but also a smart business decision for Sony. Sony is telling consumers, "you don't need to buy our content--or buy any content--to get value from our devices." Enabling consumers to access free eBooks via the public library network and Google's public domain collection (which now tops 1 million volumes)--and letting consumers buy ePub books from other sources and read them on Sony's devices--greatly expands the value proposition of its devices. And by going open, Sony helps compensate for its biggest weakness: its lackluster eBookstore, which pales in comparison with Amazon.com.

 

Overall, these and previous moves put Sony in a strong position to compete against Amazon this holiday season. Sony's well-designed product lineup--which offers value-seeking consumers the Pocket Reader at $199, those willing to trade up for more features the Touch at $299, and wireless junkies the Daily at $399--will measure up well against the ugly duckling Kindle 2 and Kindle DX. It helps that Sony's products will have distribution in more than 8,600 stores, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, and others; the Kindle is available in just the 1,200 Targets (in addition to Amazon.com, of course).

 

With the right products and the right distribution, now it's up to Sony's marketing team to persuade consumers that a Reader is the perfect holiday gift, superior to the popular Amazon Kindle. With a campaign that includes TV, online, print, and in-store efforts from September to January, Sony is putting serious resources behind this product push.

 

Stay tuned for Forrester's updated holiday outlook for the eReader market--it will be an exciting holiday season, that's for sure.

 

And then there's next year...