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Old 09-28-2006, 10:14 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Why the Sony Reader will be successful

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:
  1. The price of $350 is a steep up-front investment when paper books cost nothing up-front.

  2. There is no backlight

  3. The e-ink display may be gorgeous, but page turns are slow, and it also restricts the interface functionality.

  4. 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!
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Old 09-29-2006, 04:07 AM   #2
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Bob are you sponsored by Sony per post you make ?
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Old 09-29-2006, 04:17 AM   #3
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mori, no team member @ MobileRead is sponsored by anyone, you have my word.

But I admit, we are very excited about the Reader.
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Old 09-29-2006, 05:15 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
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.
You seem to be greatly confused about what "reading experience" is. So I'll help set you straight.

The reason Copyright exists is that reproducing the value of books is very easy - because the value of books has nothing to do with the physical-ness of the book. The value of books is in the words, and the ideas those words represent. Books are really nothing more than an efficient communications medium for transmitting ideas from an author to someone else.

An awful pBook costs $8. A great pBook costs $8. (Based on the paperback that's sitting here on my desk.) I can easily argue that the great book offered me a much better reading experience than the awful book, yet the costs of both books are the same. The price of pBooks is based on physical costs rather than the value of the words contained inside.

So, I would argue that there are 2 components to the "reading experience":
1. The physical-ness (i.e. how easy it is to transport, how big the font is, etc.)
2. The words and ideas.

The physical-ness of the reading experience is why some people paid $700 for an iLiad. It's the reason others paid $350 for a Sony reader.

But it's not a reason to pay paper-price for an eBook.

When I buy an eBook, I am paying for words and ideas. Period. All physical costs are gone.

Therefore there is no justification whatsoever for an eBook to be the same cost (or more) of a pBook. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch.
eBooks should cost 50% of the price of an pBook, maximum - and only for eBooks that contain valuable words and ideas.

When DRM is involved, we are talking about renting access to those words and ideas for a limited time. I can get that today by joining a library that supports eBooks and renting those words and ideas for free. So the value of a DRM eBook is, maximum, $1 - again, only for those eBooks that contain valuable words and ideas.

Companies need to offer value. When they don't, consumers look for alternatives. Sometimes those alternatives are not legal. The current crop of DRM eBooks do not offer value. The success of those businesses so far simply prove that P.T. Barnum was right: There is a sucker born every minute.
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Old 09-29-2006, 05:28 AM   #5
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Amen to that, rlauzon!
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Old 09-29-2006, 06:52 AM   #6
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As Alex said about being paid by Sony for posting - of course not. But my enthusiasm has obviously exploded exponentially based on playing with the actual device and reading on it. Mori is right on. I love it and it shows! It's the first e-ink device I've read on, and it's the only one so far in the U.S. that has the backing and infrastructure (including the store) that Sony offers. It's expensive, but affordable. It's a great size. And it's wonderful to use. I like the Sony team and their enthusiasm, I like the hardware, I love the screen, and I think it's the only e-ink device so far with a chance to work for mainstream readers. So I guess everyone will just have to accept my enthusiasm. But I think it's about the most exciting news to ever hit the e-book world!

And while the common and frequent complaints about DRM are completely valid, I stand by my belief that the Sony Reader is such a great reading experience that people will put up with the evils of DRM to get e-books for it. Will the world agree? I can't wait to find out!
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Old 09-29-2006, 06:54 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rlauzon
You seem to be greatly confused about what "reading experience" is. So I'll help set you straight.

The reason Copyright exists is that reproducing the value of books is very easy - because the value of books has nothing to do with the physical-ness of the book. The value of books is in the words, and the ideas those words represent. Books are really nothing more than an efficient communications medium for transmitting ideas from an author to someone else.
...
I couldn't agree more with your words... but you see... what will happen at least in the short term will be the same as with music... in the end you'll pay as much (or considering that nowadays a 18 euros cd either comes with double disc or a DVD, sometimes more) money for a digital music as you paid for the physical CD... Why? Well, Music industries usually argues that since you can get to choose single track you should pay more per track... but since thay charge the same for the whole cd in digital form the correct argument is that they feel a digital copy offers value comparing to CD so they charge more... In creativity (specially in a cartel industry) don't compete economicaly thus they don't need to lower the price for people to buy their stuff... they can even charge more... but in the end if customers feel like they are being ripped-off they'll try to get what they want some other way.

I think that Sony eReader does have potencial... it is a bit more expensive than what I would pay for... (if it would cost 250-300 USD I would buy right away) but what will happen is like what happen with PSP: people will circunvent their drm protection and run their own content.

The lack of backlight in Sony eReader might sound a stupid thing but I believe eReader is trying to appeal for normal people who don't usually read ebooks on screens and those people reads with the light of the room.. even I try to have a small light behind me to read with my palm.
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Old 09-29-2006, 07:32 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
As Alex said about being paid by Sony for posting - of course not. But my enthusiasm has obviously exploded exponentially based on playing with the actual device and reading on it. Mori is right on. I love it and it shows! It's the first e-ink device I've read on, and it's the only one so far in the U.S. that has the backing and infrastructure (including the store) that Sony offers. It's expensive, but affordable. It's a great size. And it's wonderful to use. I like the Sony team and their enthusiasm, I like the hardware, I love the screen, and I think it's the only e-ink device so far with a chance to work for mainstream readers. So I guess everyone will just have to accept my enthusiasm. But I think it's about the most exciting news to ever hit the e-book world!
Aye I agree the Sony Readers sounds like it was made in heaven but it would still be nice to get some _objective_ news about it, otherwise I'll just go read some Sony propaganda

Anyway I am curious for a review of somebody who has both devices and compares them.

Any iLiad owner in the US that ordered one ?
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Old 09-29-2006, 07:59 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
And while the common and frequent complaints about DRM are completely valid, I stand by my belief that the Sony Reader is such a great reading experience that people will put up with the evils of DRM to get e-books for it. Will the world agree? I can't wait to find out!
That's probably true, in the short term. After all, eReader and Fictionwise sell DRM eBooks and seeing as how they still exist and still sell those, people must be buying them. Even iTunes is still selling music.

It takes time and it takes experience to see how bad DRM is and it's only a matter of time before people recognize that they are getting screwed.
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Old 09-29-2006, 08:02 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mariodrss
The lack of backlight in Sony eReader might sound a stupid thing but I believe eReader is trying to appeal for normal people who don't usually read ebooks on screens and those people reads with the light of the room.. even I try to have a small light behind me to read with my palm.
Having used my iLiad for some time now to read eBooks, I can speak from experience that a backlight for an eInk device is useless. If you need a booklight, you can use the same one that exist for physical books.
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Old 09-29-2006, 08:04 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mori
Aye I agree the Sony Readers sounds like it was made in heaven but it would still be nice to get some _objective_ news about it, otherwise I'll just go read some Sony propaganda

Anyway I am curious for a review of somebody who has both devices and compares them.

Any iLiad owner in the US that ordered one ?
I agree. Right now, I am waiting to see the reviews and to actually play with one in a store before seeing if it will work better than my iLiad.

Because of the iLiad, I think that eInk is the technology that will make eBook readers successful. Now it's a matter of price/features/form-factor and which company can make the best unit.
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Old 09-29-2006, 08:32 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mori
Aye I agree the Sony Readers sounds like it was made in heaven but it would still be nice to get some _objective_ news about it, otherwise I'll just go read some Sony propaganda
Ouch! I would like to think my comments are viewed as objective, but enthusiastic. Maybe too enthusiastic. I'm not sure. But for variety, we have threads with lots of links to Sony articles, both slamming it and praising it. If I didn't like it, I would certainly tell you. And I think you will find many of its weaknesses talked about in my writing also.

My feeling, however, is that many people are focusing so much on the little things that they are missing the big picture and the potential for a big success. I'm sure a lot of people did the same thing when giving all the reasons mp3 players would be a niche product and never catch on. Will the Sony Reader catch on? I guess we just don't know yet.

But in a very few days, we will see an abundance of independent views by real users. Enthusiastic and nonchalant, big fans and Reader haters... it will all be revealed in the pages of MobileRead very soon!
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Old 09-29-2006, 09:48 AM   #13
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I agree that once you have an ebook reader that you love, going back to paper is hard, since the ebook reader gives you so much. The problem for mainstream adoption is and will always still be content and Sony reader makes it worse by adding one more drm cripple to the mix.

I am yet undecided if to get one since I am very happy with my 2 readers and I care a lot about the 3 issues that Sony has (lack of built in light, slow navigation, big enough to be not pocketable the way my Nokia is), but I will try one at a store nearby.

One thing I know is that under any circumstances I will not buy a drm bbeb book from their store, the way I never bought a drm imp book from ebookwise and I have over 800 unique books in my Ebookwise library for example.

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Old 09-29-2006, 09:51 AM   #14
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We are hearing many of the same complaints (from the early adopters) that we heard about the iPod before it was introduced. On paper it looked no better than other products of the era (Creative Nomad?), and according to some was going to fail because it was missing some "critical" features like wireless.

I feel like the Sony Reader is a good compromise (compared to the Illiad which is its only real competitor at the moment), much like the iPod was. Certain early adopters have a picture of what the perfect reader is (Web browser, wireless, backlight, etc) that in reality does not make a difference to the book buying market at large.

They are looking for something that allows them to read books, and generally just has to be better than a book in order to beat expectations. Books obviously do not have backlights, they take several seconds to turn a page (which makes noise, and can wake up a sleeping significant other), and can be big and bulky and thus annoying to take on long trips and read in bed. Of course they don't need batteries, are generally way cheaper than $350, and can be resold. But the reality is that the price will come way down, so that will be solved (for the hardware at least). And Sony really seems to have "solved" the battery issue already. Even if it's only half as good as they say (7500 page flips) I might not charge for weeks. This to me (besides the DRM issue) is the biggest problem with the Illiad. Having to charge every 8 or so hours is just not going to work for something that's supposed to replace a book.

Will the Sony Reader be the new iPod or Nomad for the eBook world? Or will it be another Newton, to far ahead of it's time to catch on?

I was lucky enough to order one the second I saw they were available (well right after I read Bob's review!), and one is currently on it's way to me, so hopefully by next week some time I will have a much better idea of how good this device actually is.
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Old 09-29-2006, 10:06 AM   #15
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Hi Bob

This is a strange statement~

"The Sony Reader provides a wonderful book reading experience that will win hearts away from paper books. Period."

These devices, iliad and Sony, give a more booklike experience and have the advantage of storage ... but winning hearts because of the experience? As the owner of an Iliad I haven't, nor will I, stop reading paper books which, on the whole, are a better experience (you can speed read across pages, you can flutter the pages and read extracts to find a section, they generally don't break when you drop them etc ...)

These devices won't sell by winning hearts, but by winning minds.
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