Sony is rolling out revamped versions of its three e-readers and selling its Pocket Edition at a higher price in a bid to compete against the cheaper Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook.
Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble's strategies for
conquering the e-reader market? Cut the prices of their respective Kindle and
Sony's strategy for boosting its sales numbers in that same
market? Raise the price of its refreshed Reader Pocket Edition and justify it
with additional features such as touch screens and a lighter, smaller
Sony's new Reader Pocket Edition will retail for $179, a
cost increase of $29 from its previous version. The revamped Touch Edition will
cost $229, with the Daily Edition topping out the line at $299. The devices now
feature slimmer and lighter bodies, more sensitive touch screens (courtesy,
apparently, of infrared sensors), and e-ink screens with higher contrast and
The question is whether those features will attract users
who would otherwise gravitate toward the Kindle or Nook, both of which retail
for $189. While the Daily Edition features the same sort of 3G connectivity as
the Kindle and Nook, neither the Pocket Edition nor the Touch Edition offers a
wireless option. Furthermore, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble sell WiFi-only
versions of the Kindle and Nook for $139 and $149, respectively; that, along
with recent price cuts among smaller e-readers
, exerts considerable
pressure for new devices on the market to be cheaper, not more expensive.
On Aug. 31, Borders President Mike Edwards told the Wall
Street Journal that his company would slash the retail cost of Kobo and
Aluratek Libre e-readers by $20, bringing the former to $129.99 and the latter
to $99.99. Edwards reportedly insisted that the price cuts were driven less by
"pricing in the marketplace" than the need to apparently offer an e-reader
device for below $100.
Despite the cost- and feature-battles between e-reader
manufacturers, however, their ultimate fight may be with the Apple iPad, which
features an e-reader application. In July, Susquehanna Financial Group analyst
Marianne Wolk suggested that Apple had likely shipped more iPads than Amazon
had Kindle users. Whether that estimate is accurate-Amazon has habitually
refused to release Kindle sales figures-it suggests that the rapid iPad uptake
among consumers could pressure the still-nascent e-reader market in ways that
affect both price and publisher negotiations.
In addition to their price war, Amazon and Barnes &
Noble have been engaged in a tit-for-tat upgrading of their devices' software
features. Amazon's third-generation Kindle, announced July 28, includes
Wikipedia access and password-protected PDFs in addition to a higher-contrast
. Sony must hope that the ability to swipe pages with a finger
will be the competitive differentiator it needs in a cheaper, feature-rich
Editor's Note: The price of the Touch Edition has been corrected from $299 to $229.