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Sony Drops E-Book Prices, Introduces New Readers

One of the first big-name companies to take a stab at selling electronic books in this decade--no, not Amazon--renewed its efforts this morning. Sony announced lower prices on new and best-selling e-books and unveiled two new models of its Reader tablets.


The price cut--from $11.99 to $9.99--brings Sony's e-book pricing in line with those in Amazon's Kindle Store. But, as in Amazon's better-stocked storefront, some titles sell for less and others go for more: Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson's "The Battle For America 2008" costs $16.47 at both the Sony and Amazon shops.

(The New York Times' story notes that some publishers don't like these cut-rate prices and may adopt the movie industry's release-window strategy, delaying the electronic release of some titles until after they've debuted in print. I agree with longtime e-book observer David Rothman, who at the TeleRead blog calls this a foolish move: "Good luck, guys. Just whip up the crowd about the e-bestsellers to come and watch those pirate sites grow [...] People want their vampire novels and VIP bios now.")

Sony's eBook Store also offers access to "over a million" public-domain e-books available for free through Google (Barnes & Noble's e-book store, reviewed here a few weeks ago, only stocks 500,000 Google-provided public-domain titles).

Sony's new e-book readers will ship at the end of the month. The PRS-300 Reader Pocket Edition (shown above in "rose," with navy-blue and silver versions available too) will offer a 5-in. screen and sell for $199--$100 less than Amazon's popular, larger Kindle 2. The PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition, at $299, includes a 6-in., touch-sensitive screen. Each offers 512 megabytes of internal memory, far less than current Kindles, although the Touch Edition lets you expand that storage with its SD Card and Memory Stick expansion slots. Both use the same basic type of grayscale "e-ink" screens as Kindles and so share such issues as a slow refresh rate compared to regular color displays.

Sony will also ship a 3.0 version of its required Reader software that, unlike the current release, runs in Mac OS X as well as Windows XP and Vista. (OS X and Linux users can also employ a third-party, open-source program called Calibre.) This software is required because Sony's readers, unlike Kindles, have no Internet connection of their own; you must download your e-book purchases on a computer before copying them to a Reader. Brennan Mullin, vice president of Sony's Audio and Digital Reading Divisions, said yesterday that the company is working on a reader with wireless access but didn't provide any other details.

After these updates, Sony's e-book venture will share one other issue with Amazon and Barnes & Noble's offerings: mandatory "digital rights management" usage controls. (For example, you can't loan an e-book bought at Sony's store unless the recipient has a Sony Reader linked to your own acccount, nor can you give an e-book a as a gift.) That, as I've written many times before, turns me off. Having lived through DRM restrictions on purchased music, then paid to get rid of it, I'm not interested in repeating the experience with other purchased digital media.

How about you? Are you waiting for the right kind of hardware and software to start shopping for e-books, or do you first want to see a purchased electronic title come with the same ownership rights as a print copy?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 5, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Gadgets  
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Can you view color photos, prints, pictures with any of the e-book readers?

Posted by: MMRudy | August 5, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

When I can borrow/download an e-book from my public library I might consider purchasing a reader.

Posted by: Geezer4 | August 5, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

I don't mind DRM protected media, as long as I'm being charged for a rental. Don't charge me the same price as you charge someone else to "buy" the book unless you're giving me the same rights.

Book publishers should also note that if readers are paying part of the distribution costs (i.e. cost of the reader, PC, & internet connection), they should receive a further discount from the hardcover cost. Publishers should not expect to make a significantly higher margin from e-book readers than they do from traditional distribution. They can't keep all the savings for themselves.

Posted by: dannews | August 5, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm waiting for reader prices to come down a bit more. The new cheaper Sony Reader is too small - I might as well use a PDA or PDA/Phone. The bigger devices are too expensive - I might as well buy a netbook.

As for what to read - for me, three things: Public domain classic literature with no DRM. Technical books and manuals that I get as PDF files. Digital magazine and newspaper subscriptions - like to the Washington Post.

Posted by: jcflack1 | August 5, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Though I still buy most of my books used, it's worth $10 to get a current NYT best seller on my laptops. As many say about cellphone cameras, the best [well, in this case...] book is the one you've got with you.

I haven't found a dedicated eBook reader worth my cash since the Rocket eReader years ago, though, and still read them all on the laptop.

But seriously... with a built-in book light and no pages to hold open, laptop ebook reading hits a sweat spot that sucks up about 15% of my book buying money. If I want to hang onto the book later (DRM free), I'll buy the pulp-based version used and, with the sorts of discounts Fictionwise gives me, still likely come out ahead.

Posted by: WorstSeat | August 5, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I've had a Kindle for a little over a year (I got mine before Kindle 2 debuted), and I'm hooked. I agree with jcflack1 that one of the best things about them is the free classic literature. I have Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Complete Works of Charles Dickens, and as much Dostoevsky as I can stomach for about four bucks, and I don't have to read any of it on a backlit LCD.

The prices on these books are so low that I'm practically getting them for free. That gives me the convenience of having them all at once on an eReader, but I'm not breaking the bank if I want to buy a "real" book at B&N.

Posted by: docmcconl | August 5, 2009 10:00 PM | Report abuse

I like Dannews comment on effectively renting the book. I can sell the book or loan the book: This is a rental. Also, try reading a floppy disk from 10 years ago. Why should I believe that this book will be readable in 10 years. This is a relevant comment as several of my authors have expanded a series long after its initial completion, and I need to review the books to remember what is happening.

The biggest reason from me to go digital is storage. The biggest reason for me not to go digital is that I am not positive that the books will be readable in the future.

Posted by: BTHcomments | August 6, 2009 2:08 AM | Report abuse

There are some pretty good free ebooks out there. and other sites are easier to access than the free Google books, I think.

Posted by: coachoconnorucla | August 6, 2009 2:38 AM | Report abuse

I am a happy user of the Sony reader. There are thousands of public domain titles out there, and I am loaded with those. I also watch for sales and specially priced bundles at the Sony ebook store, so I have built a large library at little cost. The screen of the reader is about the size of a standard paperback book and the overall reader is about the size of a very slim trade paperback. The "epaper" display is very easy on the eyes - MUCH better than a computer, phone, or PDA. It lacks a keyboard, which I consider a plus. I carry mine everywhere, and have a library of books conveniently available for waiting room, bedside table, or wherever. The SD storage is also a plus, IMO.

Posted by: HarryP | August 6, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Both the Kindle and the Sony reader are so limited in their ability to deliver content that widespread adoption will be delayed until the user can enjoy copy COMBINED with color illustrations, video,and of course ubiquitous access to a broad-band connection that will preclude the need for storage...and provide a battery life that offers 12+ hours of uninterrupted use - regardless of the media usage (book,magazine,video,etc). I'll wait on the sidelines for this device (which may be here sooner than anyone expects [Apple Rumor de jour...]...), and when it arrives, I will stop buying print copy and go 100% "digital" - the same way I did with my audio & video...I don't think I'm alone on this...and once the content is available and accessible...I have no problem paying the $800 for a device which will provide years of service and therefore, on an annualized basis be relatively inexpensive.

On a separate note: I would expect a "reader" to also offer me the ability to highlight, insert margin notations, etc, so that downloaded textbooks could reduce the high cost of school textbooks - with electronic revisions so they remain relevant.

Posted by: willi100 | August 6, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I think DRM is a bad thing (it treats law-abiding, honest customers like criminals), which is why at Smashwords, we publish and sell all our ebooks (2,300+ at last count) in 9 different DRM-free ebook formats. A customer pays one price and gains lifetime access to their book in multiple formats (as well as future formats we release in the future).

However, our ebooks, like all ebooks, are licensed like software, and similar to most software programs, you're not allowed to share it with friends, or resell it. And this is the way it should be, because authors and publishers deserve to be compensated for their work. In exchange for these non-transferable rights, I think ebooks should be priced less than print books (when you buy a print book, you own it like property and can give it away, resell it, etc.)

Rob, it's fair to pose the question about sharable ebooks, but to encourage ebook sharing and copying and duplication risks encouraging customers of print books to duplicate their books at Kinkos and share or resell the pirated versions. I'm sure that's not what you intend to encourage.

Shareable ebooks are possible, but they involve DRM. This is actually one use of DRM that most consumers view as sensible and fair, and you can see it in practice at libraries. You check out an ebook and after a certain number of days the ebook "expires" and disappears.

I blogged yesterday about the DRM debate and piracy in a post I titled, "Why Print Books are Like Zombies" -

Mark Coker

Posted by: markcoker | August 6, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I don't mind DRM. Incompatibilities between rival DRM formats are another issue. But I accept that a bit of extra hassle is necessary to ensure that the outlay of providing this content is rewarded with a profit. Get over it, whiners. If DRM is the biggest problem in your life, you're living the dream.

Posted by: LStarr3 | August 6, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Sorry all. I spend my book budget at the local hospice thrift store that supports those in need, not giant corporations. After reading them, I return most to the hospice for resale.

Another plus -- books are totally biodegradable, unlike our electronic gadgets. And there's no comparison to holding a book, turning its pages, and writing notes in nonfiction for future referral.

Posted by: Rich393 | August 6, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I am waiting for an eBook reader that is truly for the visually impaired with decent-sized fonts for those of us who really want and need large fonts to read eBooks, eMagazines, eBlogs, whatever. So far, I really don't see that.

At one time, Sony marketed a previous version of their reader to the visually impaired, which was a big joke, and they ended up giving me a 100% refund on the device and books since they didn't deliver what they were advertising.

Kindle appears to have some larger fonts, but still not in the range of many visually impaired people. The eBook readers on the market that do have the larger fonts are from foreign countries and are very expensive.

Waiting for Plastic Logic, to see if that device just might be what I'm looking for.

Posted by: The_Real_Crusader | August 6, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I'm waiting for a color e-reader or a netbook computer with an integrated reader. I don't like DRM and hope the publishers get the message. I share my print books with family and friends. It should be the same with e-books. The prices should be lower because of the eventual huge cost savings to the publisher.

Posted by: melmatthews | August 6, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I fully understand the business plan Amazon uses for the Kindle but to me Amazon and Sony (when it comes out internet download capability) should both have a bottom line reader, for argument's sake no more than $100 (or, $79 or less if possible) in which to read books and other publications. The software, books and publications should be priced so competively that virtually everyone would want a copy; new books costing, perhaps $5 ($1 for the reader company, $1 for the publisher, $1 for the author and $2 for research and develop or...whatever); After 90 days (or whenever), the price drops a dollar or two. And with that you accept you can't trade or share your book unless you're letting someone use your reader; no transfer capability, etc. Essentially a software version of the Gillette razor and disposable blade. I keep thinking that high cost readers (and high cost publications) in the way of the Segway. No one buys Segways because they're too expensive for anyone else to buy; thus they're not seen on the streets; if they were seen on the streets, it generates marketing itself; however they don't want to reduce the price because they want to recover expenses quickly (...unfortunately no one's buying them to enable them to recover expenses); it keeps turning on itself.

To me, and I'm not questioning Amazon or Sony's marketing, it makes sense to encourage everyone to want to get a simple rechargable reader and download the books inexpensively; the more they know they can afford, the more people will buy. I simply view selling more at a smaller profit than less at a higher profit. And yes, I know Amazon's plan has worked for the Kindle so far.
However, like the basic i-Pod or bottom of the line commuter car, once they've tried the basic version of a reader, it's easier to get them to upgrade to the better, more expensive (more profitable) hardware... readers, that is.

Just my two cents.

Posted by: Dungarees | August 6, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

@Mr. Coker

People, who want to read, read for pleasure. While I am sure Rob never meant to send anyone to Kinko’s to copy a novel. At 50 cents a page at that company, readers could go buy the book for a cheaper price at a brick and mortar.

One of the things readers do is share books. Let a relative read it, or a friend, or maybe even entice a spouse. Sharing is part of the culture for those who read, not being able to share goes against that grain.

To sell more and gain more market share, companies like yours need to serve (please) the people who make up the majority of the product’s target consumers. Other consumers, who don’t read as much, might buy in later. With your average young adults and teenagers, we all know about DRM, and we don’t like it.

Also, Kindles, and other products which come out in 2009, should already have the technology to render in color a year from now. We shouldn’t have to pay more to see color at a future date.

Posted by: ummhuh1 | August 6, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

My advice to those who have not yet made a purchase of an e-book reader to stop waiting for the 'ideal' hardware device and purchase one of them. I own the Sony e-Book and I love it. I bring it with me whenever I anticipate waiting in line for anything. I have dozens of books loaded on the reader and I cannot ever imagine not having one. The publishers will be going back and forth for years to come over the licensing issues. There is no substitute for having a wide range of reading materials in such a compact device. I read my material in bed with the illuninator option which works perfectly. I easily access and download my books in mere minutes. The Kindle is intriguing as well. They didn't have the newer readers that are now available when I made my choice a year and a half ago. I'm still going to stick with Sony. Not everything I read has to be on my e-Reader anyway.

Posted by: barringtonthoughts | August 6, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

My iPhone reader app. is free and works OK. I have read several books on it. I would like the Kindle 2, but am waiting for the price to drop to $200. Since the Sony reader is that price, I will take a look at it.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | August 6, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Astak makes a far stronger 5 inch eBook Reader. The Sony PRS-300 is stripped down to its sealed-in battery!

I am trying to get Rob P. to cover Astak!! Our 5 inch Pocket PRO has Epson Controller with 400MHz processor for amazing page turns, 8 level grey scale, Adobe Digital Editions, Text-To-Speech, displays 12 formats and 20 languages, MP3 with 3.5mm jack, user replaceable rechargeable battery, SD card slot to 16GB, comes in 6 colors, includes the LEATHER case and ear buds, and will drop to $199 tomorrow!

Please ask Rob to give equal billing to better machines!

Posted by: EZReader1 | August 6, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

When the chess grandmaster Mikhail Tal was asked: "Which was your best and most brilliant game?", he replied: "My next one."

In the near future, ebooks will be cheaper, ebook reading devices will be a quantum-leap better, and "Netbooks" will be perfectly adapted for electronic reading and annotating. DRM ("Don't Read Me") may be nothing but a footnote on WikiPedia.

The real news story here is this: there are more ebook reading devices, and more ebook stores coming soon. There is now a healthy competition, which drives down prices and generates innovation.

Rob, you may find that the Astak reader, and the website, point the way to the friendliest ebook-reading future.

Michael Pastore, author
50 Benefits of Ebooks

Posted by: epubster14 | August 9, 2009 10:52 PM | Report abuse

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