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Old 09-26-2006, 12:30 PM   #1
Ken Stuart
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Long-term implications of Sony Reader details

Hello,

People are naturally interested in finding out very specific details of the first Sony Reader, the PRS-500, which will affect their own use of the device.

So, I decided to start a new thread about the long-term implications that can be separate from all the discussions about refresh rates and cover colors.

It seems that this is definitely an "early adopter's" device. I had friends who bought the first calculator ($500-HP) and first CD player (~$1000-Sony), so I have a lot of familiarity with that pheonemon.

The device seems just good enough to appeal to that segment.

However, it seems clear from my reading of the new detailed descriptions that the PRS-500 will not be sold in vast quantities. At best, it will be successful enough to allow second generation devices with the following characteristics:

- Much simpler operation (from your description, the PRS-500 sounds slightly more complicated and slightly less intuitive than an entry level Palm PDA - or a Rocket ebook. This is too complicated for mass acceptance - it has to be like a toaster or a TV.)
- Color screen for the higher end model of the second generation. (If this is going to display PDFs, then this is really a necessity for such documents. I'm not conversant enough with e-ink to know if this will be possible soon.)
- Under $100 for the lower end model of the second generation. ("Two figures" are necessary for mass acceptance and impluse buys.)
- Built-in light that works off the internal battery. (This seems totally obvious to me, and a strange omission - it seems that Sony were desperate for longest possible battery life - forgetting that people are used to plugging in their cell phones to charge. Not needing external light is a big advantage of electronic devices.)
- User-replaceable battery (Did no one learn anything from Apple's woes?)

PS I tend to think that a "third generation" e-ink reader would have all the other hardware and software of a Nokia 770 (but with Wimax!), and thus accomodate someone who tends to read many shorter items, rather than long form "books"....
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Old 09-26-2006, 12:34 PM   #2
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Anyone know about "iPod history"? (I don't.)

Did the first model sell millions of units, or did that only happen with a second or third generation model?
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Old 09-26-2006, 12:42 PM   #3
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Ken,

try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPod article, it has iPod history and sales figures.
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Old 09-26-2006, 01:06 PM   #4
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Those are some great observations Ken. I think you are right on.

Fortunately, Sony is not likely to judge the future of e-book reader products on whether or not this device takes over the world with star studded sales right out the gate. They understand it's ground breaking product and that it opens up a new product category, so probably more important is that they come out with a solid product to establish a new type of product. Remember that Sony lost the mp3 audio player wars. This would appear to be a chance for them to get a second chance at an emerging market with an opportunity to stay on top this time.

But we might be surprised. There might be a lot of people that find the device so intriguing and useful that they will be more patient with it than you think. And once you started reading a book, there's not much to figure out to turn pages! Besides, everything sounds complicated in words. I hope to get a video up that shows how straightforward the navigation and page turning is.

And the price is an interesting topic because on the one hand you might think that because it's so much more expensive than just buying some paper books, it might not have a chance to sell. But if you are only taking a few sets of pictures, you can use a disposable camera. You don't need a digital camera, yet they are very popular. And have you ever tried to use one of them? It's much harder to learn those features than a simple e-book reader! But, yeah, if people buy only on price, and just compare the price of paper books with the price of the reader plus the books they read, they won't exactly be storming Borders for a chance to buy one!

Still, I think most people have this deep down feeling that there's value in reading and that they should read more. That can be a huge motivation to splurge a little. This is a device that they might feel supports that value judgement, and therefore they might be willing to bite the bullet on the initial investment in order to invest in themselves because it is investing in reading.

And I think there are also people that like the concept of carrying, what, maybe 4000 books on a tiny device plus a 4gb Memory Stick. That truly is a full library in the palm of your hand!

On the other hand, all the points you make are very valid. It's just hard to tell whether they are enough to keep popularity down among the general public, or if it will explode due to the benefits and quality of the device even if it's not yet the perfect device. Just like every other electronics categories, products keep getting better and better over the years. But this is a pretty darn good start!
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Old 09-26-2006, 01:18 PM   #5
Ken Stuart
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Slava
Ken,

try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPod article, it has iPod history and sales figures.
Thanks, that was interesting.

The iPod did not start having mass acceptance until early 2004, after the following things all happened:

- iMusic Store opened
- 3rd Generation iPod
- iPod Mini which was smaller, cheaper and had a dock

This is clear from looking at the sales figures, which is why Sony made sure to have the Connect Store up and running, and to have an optional dock available.

One interesting thing from the Wikipedia page is that people were willing to put up with all sorts of poorly designed aspects of the iPod (poor battery life, no screen brightness control, nonreplaceable battery, poor bass response), in order to have two things:

- Style

and

- Ease of Use and Convenience

It is also important to point out that all iPods (and other MP3 players) have worse sound quality than the previous generation of portable sound devices - handheld CD players.

This leads to three conclusions:

- The quality of the e-ink display will be compelling to high-end users, but not to average people.
- An easier interface will be needed before ebook readers can have mass acceptance.
- Ebook developers should concentrate on the textbook market, rather than the bestseller market. The biggest advantage of ebooks is that you can hold many books in a compact device. So, students - already more open to new ideas - are the natural market for ebook readers if the textbooks are almost all available in digital form.

In contrast, the bored housewife buying a $7 bestseller at the grocery store is not going to be using an ebook reader. Do people want a digital device for that very popular novel that they read over a weekend and then forgot about?

Last edited by Ken Stuart; 09-26-2006 at 01:25 PM.
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Old 09-26-2006, 01:32 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
And I think there are also people that like the concept of carrying, what, maybe 4000 books on a tiny device plus a 4gb Memory Stick. That truly is a full library in the palm of your hand!
Again, that is compelling for people like students or technical users who must carry around many books.

However there is not a correlation between carrying "1000 songs" and "1000 books". A song lasts 3 minutes. Most people take days to read one book.

As such, there is a big convenience advantage in having many songs in a player. My son uses a 256mb MP3 player and has to connect it up to change the songs every so often, so I can see the convenience of having gigabytes to hold one's entire song collection.

But, in the case of casual novel reading, the same thing doesn't apply.

The average person may not end up using ebook readers until such a time that ebooks are the dominant format. For example, I have relatives who would be happy to continue to buy audio cassettes and rent VHS tapes, but they can only find CD's and DVD's in the stores, so they have learned those.

PS Personally, I have read more ebooks than paper books over the last 5 years, so I am only trying to figure out what other people will do...
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Old 09-26-2006, 02:08 PM   #7
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Agreed. 1000 songs is very different than 1000 books.

But consider it this way...the goal and benefit is similar: When you are choosing songs to listen to or books to read, you want a big selection. Many people want the big song library not to listen to them all, but to have broad choices. I think readers want the same thing. I'd love to have all of Gutenberg with me on a reader device someday. But I know I'm never going to read even a fraction of a percentage of them!
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Old 09-26-2006, 02:34 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
Agreed. 1000 songs is very different than 1000 books.

But consider it this way...the goal and benefit is similar: When you are choosing songs to listen to or books to read, you want a big selection. Many people want the big song library not to listen to them all, but to have broad choices. I think readers want the same thing. I'd love to have all of Gutenberg with me on a reader device someday. But I know I'm never going to read even a fraction of a percentage of them!
Actually, the futuristic sci-fi presentation of that concept always involves a small device that connects wirelessly to a central library. Even back in Original Star Trek in the 1960's, when Khan reads voraciously in the Engineering Library on the little bedside screen, we don't conceive of the screen itself holding the Library, but rather that it is connected to a Library elsewhere within the ship.

Similarly, when the Inspector tells "Box" (the first TV PDA, in "Star Cops") to correlate all known George Smith's with residents of Munich, again, we have the concept of the little handheld device connecting wirelessly to "vast" information stores elsewhere.

Again, this is more Nokia 770 than Ebook Reader.

By the way, a web search today happened to pull up the CNET Editors' Review of the Rocket Ebook Reader RCA REB1100 in 2001, which I will excerpt:

Quote:
... you have to admire the fact that this e-book is just for reading books. However, that singular purpose, coupled with a rather limited selection of books, means that this gadget will appeal only to those who constantly read several best-sellers simultaneously. ...
Very strict copy-protection rules prevent you from reading the book on your PC or loaning the text to a friend; you can read it on only your e-book. To make matters worse, the selection of titles available for the REB1100 is limited to the top-selling novels and a smattering of nonfiction books; anyone interested in science or history or less popular novels will be quite disappointed. ...
Overall, we found the unit pleasant to use. The screen's a bit small compared to the area of an average book, but the backlight and the easy paging add a lot to the reading experience. An electronic book reader isn't a bad idea, but it should be a tool that allows you to read everything you want to read--which this $299 gadget won't do. It will take a much better book selection, a lower price, and an improved screen to make this attractive to the masses.
Well, 5 years later and the screen is better. However, the price is no better, and there is still an emphasis (apparently) on bestsellers rather than non-fiction. And you still can't loan books to friends, and in the words of Alton Brown, it's still not a multi-tasker.
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Old 09-26-2006, 03:09 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Stuart
Ebook developers should concentrate on the textbook market, rather than the bestseller market. The biggest advantage of ebooks is that you can hold many books in a compact device. So, students - already more open to new ideas - are the natural market for ebook readers if the textbooks are almost all available in digital form.
To a large extent, that is dependent on the textbook pubs, and the schools, we could easily all die of old age waiting for them to drive the market. If, however, folks start seening these rascals around, and get a first hand understanding of how great the e-ink is, well, that may just change things up a bit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Stuart
In contrast, the bored housewife buying a $7 bestseller at the grocery store is not going to be using an ebook reader. Do people want a digital device for that very popular novel that they read over a weekend and then forgot about?
Quite the contrary, you just described my 62 year old mother's reading habits. She likes the idea of getting that bestseller for $6 dollars, without ever leaving home, and then not even having to physically get rid of it when she's done.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Stuart
By the way, a web search today happened to pull up the CNET Editors' Review of the Rocket Ebook Reader RCA REB1100 in 2001, which I will excerpt:
<snip>
Well, 5 years later and the screen is better. However, the price is no better, and there is still an emphasis (apparently) on bestsellers rather than non-fiction. And you still can't loan books to friends, and in the words of Alton Brown, it's still not a multi-tasker.
The screen is worlds better, as is the batt life, size, weight and usability. Availability of texts is much bigger (10k+ -- what did Rocket book have? A few hundred?), and you can get non-fiction too, both from the Connect Store and any other source you can save as an RTF (not exactly the hurdle that the .RB files were).

No, you can't loan books if they're from the Connect store, unless you and 4 friends wanted to share a Connect Store account .... But you can share any other (non-secure) content from other sources, the number of which is ever growing. But getting rid of DRM is another crusade altogether, and is a factor for any reader.

Last edited by NatCh; 09-26-2006 at 03:13 PM.
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