There is a lot of speculation about the potential for success for failure of the Sony Reader. Let's face it, nobody really knows yet. Many of us hope for the best because we want to see e-book devices succeed. We are especially excited because the Sony Reader is the first e-book reader that has a really great display, at a somewhat reasonable price, and not only has the backing of a major electronics company, but also has an associated store with easily obtained content.
For Sony to be successful, it needs to be able to get past those that are eager to get one before it's really even introduced very much to the world. It needs to get past the rich, the tech lovers and the curious. It has to reach a base of regular people who like to read.
Experts already give four primary reasons why the Sony Reader will be a niche player and not reach the mainstream readers:
- The price of $350 is a steep up-front investment when paper books cost nothing up-front.
- There is no backlight
- The e-ink display may be gorgeous, but page turns are slow, and it also restricts the interface functionality.
- The Sony Connect store uses a DRM'd format controlled by Sony, and therefore without a huge discount on books, people will avoid the Reader.
Those are very convincing reasons on paper why success will be limited. They are hard to argue, because they are so self-evident. In fact, they are rock solid, and I don't even dispute that they will affect adoption. So why am I so upbeat and optimistic about the Reader? Simple, and here's why:
The Sony Reader provides a wonderful book reading experience that will win hearts away from paper books. Period.
I can tell you even by my limited reading opportunities already that for me there is no comparison. I can never go back. I love being able to choose the font size, and being able to get big print if my eyes are tired. I love the way it seems to have a calming effect on my eyes. I love the way I can lay it down and touch a button to turn pages, instead of having to handle that paper book and get hand cramps.
I'd rather read on this device than paper so much that for books only available at the Sony onine store, I would gladly buy DRM'd books for the opportunity to read them on the Sony Reader. And that takes into account the fact that I hate DRM'd e-books, and know they may or may not be available for me to read in the future if I switch reading platforms. But I realize that for now, it's the necessary evil if publishers are going to make the e-books available. It's not ideal, but that's basically the status quo. And until something changes significantly, it's what we live with (or protest against!)
To get that great reading experience and that compact and convenient form factor, people will find that it's worth the "evils" of DRM and prices that seem way too high. Book reading is an investment in one's self. We pay the price for golf clubs or tennis rackets or health club memberships. People are going to be a lot more willing to invest in their mental health than we give them credit for. We can complain all day that prices are too high and DRM is bad, but bottom line is that it's still a great option if the book reading experience is better.
Some will disagree vehemently with me on this, but I expect a lot of people will agree with me. It will be interesting to see, as devices start arriving, if others agree about this after using the Reader. I think that the more time one spends with the Reader, the more people will like it. It's not the sort of product that is going to be tried for a few minutes in a store and win hearts, but then disappoint them after they actually read a book. To the contrary, once they actually read a book on it, I think they will be hooked. And then the Sony Connect store is going to be like their best friend. We'll have to wait a while to see if this is true, but that's the way I see it.
Sony will ultimately have to share the market to some degree with competitors, but the opportunity is there for them to dominate in this new product category. Let's see if they can.
There will always be a thousand reasons why the Sony Reader will fail. And there will be just as many reasons that the device isn't perfect. But the simple bottom line is that the quality of the book reading experience will trump them all. Watch and see!