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Old 08-11-2008, 07:43 AM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Has Sony lost the e-book battle against Amazon?

Battle? What battle you may ask. Sure, most of us were blown away by the overall success of the Amazon Kindle. The question is, why did Sony not have the same success with the Sony Reader, which was launched one year before the Kindle? And even more important is the question: Could Sony succeed if they brought out their own connected e-book device to the market? The Irish Times thinks not, for reasons it explains in this article today:

Quote:
The Sony product is the Reader, a portable device for reading electronic books, which the company launched two years ago. This time Sony's competitor is Amazon, which has swept past Sony with the Kindle, a rival e-book reader that is showing every sign of becoming the iPod of this nascent market.

Stringer was not in charge of Sony during the Walkman debacle and partly owes his appointment three years ago to the recognition that new leadership was needed to pull the divided company together.

But the e-book battle occurred on his watch, after he identified the Reader as a product that Sony should throw its weight behind. So the ascendancy of the Kindle is - or ought to be - an embarrassment.
So what is the status quo? In terms of titles and features the Kindle seems to have a clear advantage:
  • Sony eBook store: 45'000 titles
  • Amazon store: 145'000 titles, including newspapers and blogs
  • Sony Reader: no online connectivity
  • Amazon Kindle: 3G "Whispernet" connectivity

According to the Irish Times article, there is reason to believe that the next Sony Reader will feature online connectivity:

Quote:
Steve Haber, head of the business, says Sony is "open" to that idea. Sony has also tried to get one up on the Kindle by allowing owners to obtain books from other online stores and libraries.
But here are the reasons why the author believes that it could already be too late for Sony:
  • Amazon has grabbed the market-leading position and established a strong brand;
  • History repeats itself (iPod - Walkman);
  • The Reader isn't part of Sony's core product portfolio (PlayStation, Bravia TV).
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Old 08-11-2008, 08:19 AM   #2
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I don't live in the US so from an online perspective both the Kindle and the Sony are useless to me by default (this might change in the future). Secondly, I don't want or need wireless on my book reader - I want a reader that I can load a couple of hundred titles on (preferably my entire library), after that updates to my library will be incidental and always in bulk. Thirdly, the Kindle is one fugly mother (although this will hopefully change in 2.0). Finally, Amazon and Sony store are not the only places to get your books from - the Gutenberg, bookfeeds and other places can keep you reading until the sun goes out.

Now if the good folks at Iliad would just drop their price a tad, I might buy that one instead. I'm not a loyal customer by any means. But all in all I think there is a market for more than one device, just as besides the ipod there are still plenty of people making a buck on the mp3 player market.

I don't get the ipod/walkman comparison - the original walkman is from '79 and the first ipod was made in 2001. That's like saying Ford won because cars replaced horse buggies.

Last edited by acidzebra; 08-11-2008 at 08:23 AM.
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Old 08-11-2008, 08:36 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alexander Turcic View Post
Battle? What battle you may ask. Sure, most of us were blown away by the overall success of the Amazon Kindle. The question is, why did Sony not have the same success with the Sony Reader, which was launched one year before the Kindle?
It would be easier to know whether this is a genuine question if we actually had sales figures for both, rather than the number of books available. On what basis does this article's author decide that the Kindle is more successful? I'm not disputing the conclusion, just saying it would be nice to have some solid facts.

I'm always intrigued that, according to the figures for people viewing the device-specific forums on MobileRead, by far the largest group is always Sony owners - often more than all the other devices combined. Puzzling if it's such a failure.
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Old 08-11-2008, 08:43 AM   #4
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There are more 505s outside the USA then Kindles.
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Old 08-11-2008, 08:57 AM   #5
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From the Irish Times article,
Quote:
Annual US sales of fiction and popular non-fiction books match those of recorded music, so there is enough revenue to be worth fighting for.
Is this true and does anyone know the figures this comparision will have used?
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Old 08-11-2008, 09:17 AM   #6
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In my opinion, SONY is probably going to win in the UK at least, since its going to get a full UK release with Waterstones. I think its going to end up being like mp3 players, lots of competitors for the devices themselves, and you buy your books from various sources.

Also, I would like to point out that just because iPods are more popular than any other mp3 device, it does not mean they are better. I would take a SONY walkman mp3 player over an iPod any day for better sound quality, design, battery life etc. The biggest reason why iPods are popular is iTunes making it easy.

My SONY reader 505 to me looks better, feels better and works better than the Amazon Kindle.
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Old 08-11-2008, 09:23 AM   #7
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The iPod may be popular, but it is by no means the only MP3 player out there. There's room for lots of MP3 player brands. If Sony made a product that looked as good and worked as well as the iPod, they could have an equal market share today. But in fact, their MP3 players, while very stylish-looking, do not work as well as most other MP3 players, so they hold a very small share of the massive MP3 player market.

The same lesson holds for the reader: Sony's product looks nicer than the Kindle, but it must work as well to be popular (and in this case, we're not talking about just the device itself, but its peripherals, such as book availability and ease of purchasing). If Sony can demonstrate that you can get as many books as from Amazon, and as easy or easier, the reader and the Kindle can coexist evenly.

Yes, the Kindle was operating with a stacked deck from the moment it arrived. But Sony could have anticipated the Kindle's features, and provided their own analogue, with a bit more forward thinking than they demonstrated. It means more work for Sony to catch up, but they have the resources to handle it (including cutting a deal with Amazon for access to their library), if they wish.
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Old 08-11-2008, 09:24 AM   #8
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I think to say Amazon has "swept past" Sony is premature because

1: We have no verifiable, official sales figures from Amazon, and
2: We have no verifiable, official sales figures from Sony.

I want to see evidence to back up all the sweeping assertions I'm hearing these days, and real *facts* are awfully thin on the ground.

That said, I will agree that this is Sony's game to lose. Amazon's acquisitions of players such as Audible and MobiPocket suggest a long term game plan, and Bezos has demonstrated a willingness to wait years for profitability. While Sony has the retail advantage, they aren't pressing the marketing. This is a device the public needs to be told about, otherwise they won't know it exists.
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Old 08-11-2008, 09:26 AM   #9
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HeHe

I don't think the battle has even started yet and they're already declaring a winner. You could argue that if Sony was more successful with the PRS-500 they'd just have more pissed off customers that it can't be upgraded and Amazon might run into the same thing with Whispernet.

Personally I hope the customer is the winner of the e-book battle and that would mean that no single vendor is the winner.
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Old 08-11-2008, 09:26 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by halljames View Post
I would take a SONY walkman mp3 player over an iPod any day for better sound quality, design, battery life etc.
You've clearly handled different Sony MP3 players than I have. Design, yes. Operability? No. But everyone is different... which is why the Sony reader could stand evenly with the Kindle, if Sony wants to put in the work do get it there.
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Old 08-11-2008, 09:36 AM   #11
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Battle? What battle you may ask. Sure, most Amazon marketing department employees were blown away by the overall success of the Amazon Kindle. The question is, why did Sony not have the same perceived success as with the Kindle? Because the Amazon marketing department likes the Kindle better! And even more important is the question: Why is the The Irish Times reporting on either reader? Neither reader is sold in Ireland.
Could a company succeed if they brought out their own connected e-book device to the market and then paid for puff reviews? Probably not, most people would see right though it.
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Old 08-11-2008, 09:44 AM   #12
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I was impressed with Amazon's blitz marketing campaign when it came out. It was on every news program, talk show, magazine cover, etc. for a couple of weeks and has been front and center of the very popular (for readers, anyway) web page of Amazon since it came out. From Sony, we've seen....let me see.....give me a moment......Oh, yes - one in every airport kiosk next to the PSP devices.
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Old 08-11-2008, 10:17 AM   #13
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Amazon wins easily. Sony burned me too many times with their Reader and their overpriced, horribly formatted ebooks and lousy customer service that doesn't care about you once they have your money already. One cutomer rep even brazenly told me "If you don't like it, go get a damn Kindle." Well fine then! Screw them.

Amazon = excellent customer service, they'll even replace a Kindle totally(!), excellent low prices on ebooks, more ebook content by far, word search, integrated dictionary, wikipedia, internet access, you can make notes in the thing, and i could go on.

Screw Sony's Reader. The Amazon Kindle's got this market by the head now and it's only getting stronger. If I could, I would have bought a Kindle instead. Guess I'll have to wait until Kindle 2.0 comes out.

(This is coming from a owner of the Sony PRS 505 btw. I know people who have Kindles and we have swapped devices for a week. The winner is the Kindle all the way.)

Last edited by reeder; 08-11-2008 at 10:26 AM.
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Old 08-11-2008, 10:42 AM   #14
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Content is king. Sony would need to at least double the number of titles they're adding to their online store each month to have a hope of beating Amazon. They'd also need to lower prices. I don't see either of those things happening really.
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Old 08-11-2008, 10:55 AM   #15
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So far, calculating available content misses the mark

Quote:
Originally Posted by carld View Post
Content is king.
If content is king, then Sony and Amazon should be neck and neck. The Kindle is essentially tied to Amazon for books so when you count book availability you count what is available on Amazon.

Sony, however, is not tied to the Sony Connect store and when determining availability, you should count alll the books available at all the stores that sell content readable on the Sony.

Comparing the Amazon bookstore with Sony Connect is not comparing apples with apples -- Amazon's business is book selling, not Kindle selling; Sony's business is Reader selling, not book selling.

The real content question is not Amazon bookstore vs. Sony Connect but rather the number of books available for purchase (or free) to be read on the Kindle vs those available for the Sony regardless of the seller.
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