Electronic books are often mentioned in the samebreath as Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle digital reader. Now e-book rivalSony Corp. is determined to recapture consumers' attention with asmaller reader that's also $100 cheaper.
Sony is expected to release the Reader PocketEdition by the end of August. Like the Kindle and Sony's previousReaders, the Pocket Edition will come with an "electronic ink" display,which shows dark gray text on a lighter gray background. As the word"pocket" implies, its five-inch screen will be smaller than that on theKindle and other Sony models.
Unlike other Readers, the Pocket Edition won't play digitalmusic files, and it won't have a slot for a memory card to supplementinternal storage that can hold 350 books.
It will retail for $199, a third off the price of the basicKindle model and about $80 less than Sony's PRS-505 reader, which willbe discontinued. Color choices include blue, red and silver.
The device is entering a small but growing market.US e-book sales totaled $113 million last year - up 68 percent from2007 but still a fraction of the estimated $24.3 billion spent on allbooks, according to the Association of American Publishers.
Steve Haber, president of Sony's Digital Reading BusinessDivision, expects the Pocket Edition's price tag will lure newconsumers who haven't wanted to shell out for such a device thus far.
And he's not worried that the Pocket Edition'schances for success will be diminished by the rising popularity ofreading e-books on smart phones like the iPhone and BlackBerrys.
"Once you see it, it's been a consistent response of, 'That's cool,'" he said.
Sarah Rotman Epps, a media analyst at Forrester Research, saidthe Pocket Edition's price below $200 breaks an important psychologicalbarrier.
"This is something that is affordable for the holiday season,and I think that you'll see sales of e-readers outpacing currentforecasts," she said.
Her current forecast calls for sales of two million digitalreading devices this year; she said a little more than one million weresold by the end of 2008.
She doesn't expect Amazon to rest on its laurels, adding thatthe online retailer will have to respond to counter Sony's new pricepoint.
Sony is also introducing a $299 touch-screen model to replaceits existing $350 touch-screen PRS-700. The Touch Edition will have thesame six-inch screen as its predecessor but not the PRS-700's built-inlight. Haber said removing the light would correct some screen-clarityproblems it has caused.
With the PRS-700, users can highlight text and take notes witha touch-screen keyboard. On the new model, users also can write noteswith a finger or a stylus that is included.
The new model has a built-in dictionary and is faster atchanging pages when readers swipe a finger across the screen. It willsell in red, silver or black and can hold 350 books in its built-inmemory or more on a memory card.
A big difference between Sony's Readers and Amazon's Kindle hasalways been the lack of wireless access for quick and simple downloadsof books. The new models are no different; they have to be connected toa computer to acquire books.
For the first time, they will be compatible with PCs and Maccomputers, though. Sony will offer current Reader owners a softwareupdate 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 also is adjusting prices to some of the e-books it sellsthrough its online eBook Store. New releases and best-sellers will nowsell for $10, $2 less than current prices. Amazon's Kindle Store offersmost best-sellers and new releases for $10.
Sony's eBook Store includes more than 100,000 books, as well asa million free public-domain books available from Google Inc. throughits Google Books project. The Kindle Store currently has more than330,000 available titles.
The Kindle can only download books from Amazon's store, whileSony's Readers can display texts sold in the "epub" format - an openstandard supported by the International Digital Publishing Forum thatnumerous publishers use to make e-books.