Why Kindle, Nook are ahead of Sony Reader (Strategy Review)

The Kindle has sold millions of Kindles in the last 73 days. Nook Color is selling half a million units a month.

The Sony Reader – Well, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t exist. Most people don’t even consider the new Sony Readers when deciding which eReader to buy. 

This post will explore why Sony’s eReader, which was the first to arrive to market, is now an afterthought.

Disclaimer – This is a review of Sony’s US Reader strategy

This post is US-centric and only considers the US eReader market.

The Sony readers are, in my opinion, the best ‘electronic reading devices’ out of the Big 3 eReaders. The problem is – the Sony Readers are terrible when you consider the complete eReader ownership experience.

Sony Readers are suffering from terrible strategy decisions

This could be a never-ending post. To simplify things, let’s discuss 5 main weaknesses in Sony’s Reader strategy.

Sony tried for premium positioning without having a premium eReader

The two new Sony Readers came in at $229 and $179 at a time when equivalent eReaders were $30 to $40 cheaper. Sony tried to position the Sony Readers as ‘quality’ eReaders even though they were not very different from Kindle and Nook. It hoped people would pay for perceived quality.

That’s terrible strategy.

Here’s what the $179 Sony Reader Pocket Edition’s main strengths and weaknesses are -

  1. Strengths – looks good, very light and compact, touch screen, eInk Pearl.
  2. Weaknesses – No SD Card slot, no wireless, no good ebook store to back it up, no reading apps for other platforms, no browser, terrible use of touch capability, no speakers, no text to speech feature, no lending.

When you consider the total eReader ownership experience, the Sony Reader Pocket Edition is in no way comparable to Kindle WiFi and Nook WiFi. It might be shinier and tinier, and have eInk Pearl and touch – However, there’s nothing to back that up.

Sony expecting people to pay $179 when they could get Kindle 3 for $189 is madness. Kindle 3 comes with free store browsing, free Internet access, and both 3G and WiFi. It might not have touch, and it might not support library books, but in almost every other way it beats the Sony Reader Pocket Edition.

On the plus side, Sony has realized this and is offering its two new Readers for $150 and $199 now. It keeps doing promotions to maintain this pricing. It should just make things simple – Cut the prices permanently. Stop going for the luxury angle when you don’t have a premium offering.

Sony doesn’t get the fact that customers like things to be easy

Here are a few examples -

  1. You don’t have wireless on the device. So customers can’t reference the web or do wireless book downloads.
  2. You have to install a special software program that authenticates your Sony Reader before you can transfer books from your computer to your Reader. Not only do you need to use a computer, you need to use a terribly designed piece of software from Adobe to transfer books.
  3. There are different modes for taking notes, adding highlights, and turning pages. It takes a special kind of genius to decide that before being able to add a note, the user should go into a special mode.
  4. The Sony Reader Pocket Edition, which retails for $179 (currently $149 on discount), has no speakers, no SD card slot, and other unnecessary limitations. It’s as if Sony removed features just so that it could make the Touch Edition seem better than it is. In stark contrast, Nook WiFi and Kindle WiFi don’t have any artifical limitations.
  5. The range of books in the Sony Reader Store is terrible. To add insult to injury, the prices are higher than both Kindle Store and Nook Store.

Sony adds friction everywhere – friction when buying books, friction when getting them on to your Sony Reader, and friction in the reading process.

It even went the extra distance to figure out the most useless placement of page turn buttons. Every single time you turn a page – You’ll be wondering why Sony couldn’t just put page turn buttons on the sides like on Kindle and Nook.

Sony gave up after making the eReader

Sony didn’t think – After users buy our eReader, they’ll probably want to buy books and read them.

It assumed that once it sells a Sony Reader, it’s job is done.

Sony’s lack of focus on ‘the reading experience’ and ‘the ownership experience’ shows in a lot of ways -

  1. The Store is poorly done. Poor range, poor prices, and poor navigation.
  2. There’s no infrastructure. No services to provide additional value.
  3. There are no reading apps. If you want to read on something other than your Sony Reader – you’re stuck.
  4. It’s not as easy to get ‘lost in a book’.
  5. It’s not as easy to add books, or buy books.

Sony gets 9 out of 10 stars for the eReader itself and it easily beats Kindle and Nook. However, when it comes to reading books, and buying books, and support infrastructure – Sony fails miserably.

Sony’s eBook Store is an afterthought. The support services don’t even exist.

Sony took the easy way out and ran from the US market

In contrast to its total lack of concern for customers’ convenience, Sony is very concerned about making things easy for itself.

It was getting beaten on price, so it took the easy route of pretending to sell ‘quality’ eReaders. It was getting thrashed in the US, because it refused to add wireless and a proper ebook store, so it started talking about how it’s focused on the non-US market.

If you don’t want to compete in the US market – stop selling the Sony Readers here. There’s no point in making excuses.

Sony isn’t pushing the envelope

B&N released the Nook Color, and took a chance on the ‘Reading Tablet’ concept. It also released Nook Color for just $249.

Amazon released a $189 Kindle 3 that was measurably better than Kindle 2 in a dozen or more important areas. It also released a $139 Kindle WiFi.

Sony is neither pushing the envelope on technology, nor on price. Having touch seems like a big deal – But Sony has had touch for years. All it’s done in the latest Sony Readers is – get touch to finally work properly.

Sony is stuck in its old, pedantic mindset. It keeps trying to turn touch into a killer feature – even though it hasn’t worked in the past. It won’t add wireless because it thinks people don’t want the feature. Perhaps, at some level, Sony doesn’t even realize that it’s the only eReader company that is doing nothing with wireless and Cloud services.

Sony might not have an eReader strategy

It just struck me that it’s not out of the question that Sony doesn’t have a strategy.

  1. If it had any sort of competitive strategy, it’d try to match Kindle’s text to speech feature or Nook’s lending feature.
  2. Even a rough analysis would have shown it that wireless book downloads are a huge advantage for the Kindle and Nook. Instead, it’s claiming that readers don’t care about wireless downloads.
  3. It hasn’t figured out that there’s a lot of money in books. In fact, the lack of range in the Sony Reader Store, the prices, and the difficulty in getting books suggest it’s trying to avoid selling eBooks.
  4. It seems oblivious to the fact that people with iPads, iPhones, and Android smartphones would like to read books too.
  5. It totally under-estimated the importance of eReader pricing.

You could take an eReader strategy dart-board, and 3 darts thrown by a blindfolded Wall Street Hedge Fund manager, and you’d still struggle to come up with a worse strategy.

The Sony Readers have eInk Pearl and a touch screen and they’re light and pretty – Yet they’re getting zero attention and comparatively low sales. How is that even possible?

Things threaten to get even worse.

Sony Reader might slip out of the public’s consciousness completely

All the mis-steps mean that Sony Readers are fading out of the public’s consciousness.

How would you feel if a company said – We don’t really care about your market. We don’t really care that wireless makes things easy for you. We really don’t care that you’d like value-for-money.

At some level, customers have got to realize what’s going on.

If a company says wireless support doesn’t matter to its customers – Then the 98% of the population that loves the convenience of 60-second downloads decides Sony Readers are the wrong choice.

If Sony says it doesn’t care about the US market – then the US market stops caring about Sony’s Readers.

People won’t even review the new Sony Readers

Kindle is getting a ton of coverage. It’s either being played up as a ‘loser’ in Kindle vs iPad comparisons, or as a winner in the eReader wars. Nook is getting decent coverage. Nook Color is getting enormous coverage, with at least a dozen articles from reputable sources calling it ‘a good alternative to the iPad’ or ‘the best eReader available’

Sony Reader, however,  is getting very little coverage. Journalists didn’t even make the effort to review the new Sony Readers when they came out. There are no Kindle vs Sony articles being written.

Should we make excuses for Sony? Sony is focusing on the worldwide market, and the Japanese market, and that’s why it’s not getting coverage in the US.

Should we make excuses or should we point out the real reason Sony Readers are struggling. Sony Readers are struggling because Sony is messing up their potential. Sony’s eReader strategy is comically bad.

Sony has one year to figure things out – Perhaps less

Sony is ignoring the single biggest eReader market. It’s ignoring the fact that this market sets trends that the rest of the world often follows. It’s ignoring the fact that winning in this market makes the Kindle and Nook infinitely more dangerous elsewhere.

Instead of fighting the Kindle and Nook, Sony is running away to other markets. 

That’s not going to help – It’s still in the eReader business. Kindle is already being sold worldwide. Nook is going to be available worldwide eventually. By pretending there aren’t huge flaws in its strategy, Sony is setting itself up for even bigger failures.

All Sony needs to do is look at things from the user’s perspective – make it easy to get books, make the device better value for money, provide better services and features, make a better store. Sony already has an excellent eReader – it just needs to provide a great Sony Reader ownership experience.

10 Responses

  1. Sony might indeed have a strategy that may in time pay off. (But it’s looking unlikely.)

    Their goal may have been to put out a quality EBR and hope that one of the big three booksellers, or Google, or maybe MSFT (?) would make a deal with them. THEN they’d fill in the gaps. That would explain why they haven’t set up a credible store or incorporated certain nice-to-have features. The product is basically a placeholder for a bid.

    It wasn’t a bad strategy. It just hasn’t paid off. Maybe only their tactics were bad–i.e., the terms they offered weren’t attractive. Maybe, if they were willing to settle for less, they could still sign someone up. But time’s a’wastin’, and they’ve let their best opportunities slip away.

  2. >>>It even went the extra distance to figure out the most useless placement of page turn buttons.

    Baloney. I hate the side buttons on the K3. The damn thing is so festooned with buttons, you nearly have to touch it only at the top to move it without accidentally pressing something!

    The Reader buttons in the lower left corner are exactly where people traditionally put their thumb when reading a trade or MM paperback. I will argue their placement is genius to the death. The only unfortunate element is that Sony doesn’t allow remapping of those buttons for lefties who hold their books in their right hand.

    Everything else you criticize is mainly spot-on. People without the power at Sony *wanted* wireless included from Day One. They were overruled by those with the power.

    As for Sony’s crappy bookstore, people don’t really need it these days. They can use Kobo/Borders, Google eBookstore, and other stores that use “classic” Adobe DRM. If stupid B&N hadn’t mutated the DRM, they would have had tons of business from Reader owners.

  3. Sony always does the premium play, since the days of the walkman.

    In Australia, Sony has joined with the Borders store, so a lot of the problems you point out are not in play, as the Borders app is ubiquitious.

    Goof article though

  4. I’ve always wondered why Sony hasn’t advertised their readers here. I absolutely love my PRS650 – am not interested in wifi and buy any ebooks from KOBO or other sites. I don’t like their software at all and use the free Calibre which is very user-friendly. It is more expensive than the Kindle but I like the touch feature and rarely use the page buttons. For me it’s a quality product and certainly one I’d replace!

    • That’s great Marion, but good luck to you if you do ever need to replace that Sony. I’m in the UK where the news I’m getting is:

      a) The 650 was incredibly popular over Christmas and the orders are backed up until April.
      and
      b) The 650 has now been discontinued.

      I don’t care how good the product is. Only a really dumb company makes their main popular product that hard to get hold of, and sends out such confused messages from their official (franchise) stores.

      So. Sony are idiots. I’m buying a Kindle. Sony are not just losing custom, but are helping to grow their main competitor’s market share. Well done Sony.

  5. Can you please send this article TO Sony? I love my reader, and wouldn’t trade it in terms of functionality for anything else, but I’ve been worried about the exact same thing for ages now. You’ve phrased it far more eloquently than I could have. B&N and Amazon are innovating because this is crucial to their businesses. Both are in this for the long haul because books are KEY to their businesses, but Sony does electronics, so to them this just seems like another market, nothing vital.

    • Abraham, thanks for the compliment.
      I doubt Sony would care what some random blogger has written.

      • If it makes sense, there’s a shot they might pay attention to it. I get the feeling that they just don’t CARE about this particular market enough to truly invest in it, but this kind of reaction from customers might help them make up their mind.

      • You have a point. I think whatever focus groups they are talking to right now might not be representative of real Sony Reader owners, and might not be bringing up things that readers and eReader owners really want.

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