Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble's strategies for conquering the e-reader market? Cut the prices of their respective Kindle and Nook devices.
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 form-factor.
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 clarity.
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 e-ink screen. Sony must hope that the ability to swipe pages with a finger will be the competitive differentiator it needs in a cheaper, feature-rich marketplace.
Editor's Note: The price of the Touch Edition has been corrected from $299 to $229.