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.

Kindle vs Sony is becoming an afterthought

After the new Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi came out it became apparent that Nook 2 and the new Sony Readers would have to make some significant advances to keep up.

A much improved Kindle 3 meant Sony and B&N had their work cut out

Here’s a short list of Kindle 3 features that illustrates why Kindle was threatening to leave Nook and Sony Reader behind permanently – 4 weeks battery life with wireless off, faster page turns, Voice Guide, WiFi (Kindle 3 has both WiFi and 3G), free Internet with Kindle 3, better browser, more compact and lighter Kindle, low $139 and $189 prices.

In parallel Amazon has been improving its WhisperNet service, adding Kindle Apps for various platforms, and adding books to the Kindle Store. It has also released two free Kindle Apps and the first paid Kindle app.

B&N needed a very solid Nook 2 and Sony needed a very solid group of Sony Readers and a much better Sony Reader Store to compete. We don’t know what B&N’s answer is but we do know Sony’s answer – Sony 350 and Sony 650.

Sony hasn’t really delivered

Here’s my conclusion from my Kindle 3 vs Sony 350 post –

Sony comes very, very close and if not for its stubborn refusal to add wireless support and compete on price it would have had the better eReader.

As it stands, the Kindle 3 is a clear winner unless you need a touch screen or ePub support or must have an eReader that fits in your pant pocket.

Here’s Engadget’s wrap-up from their Sony 350 review

The way we see it there are two main reasons you’d buy the $179.99 e-reader over the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook: its incredibly responsive touchscreen navigation and extreme portability.

However, if those don’t appeal to you or you really just prefer having a larger selection of e-books and the ability to buy books over the air via WiFi or 3G, it’s obvious that Amazon’s $139 Kindle with WiFi or its $189 3G version would be a better choice.

Notice the similarities – Touchscreen navigation, ePub support (including support for library books), and extreme portability are the only qualifiers. In every other case Kindle 3 wins.

Sony 350 and 650 have failed to re-ignite the Kindle vs Sony debate

Just to paint a picture of how lopsided the competition is let’s contrast the main advantages –

  1. Sony 350 and Sony 650 – very cute, 350 is super light and compact, ePub and library book support, touch screen, custom screensavers. Better PDF support too – slightly better.
  2. Kindle WiFi and Kindle 3 – much lower price ($139 vs $179, $189 vs $229), better battery life, much better store (book range and price), wireless support and browser, 60 second downloads, infrastructure, Kindle App Store, Text to Speech, Accessibility, and lots of small things.

Even if you’re pro-Sony and hate Amazon you have to admit Sony has dropped the ball. It hasn’t won back the #1 spot, it hasn’t won back the #2 spot, and it might end up an afterthought.

Engadget has been less generous than me and it’s right – There just aren’t that many reasons to buy a Sony Reader. If you really must have ePub support then Nook is a better choice as it offers a much better ebook store.

The gap is going to get bigger

B&N and Amazon are improving their infrastructure and adding apps for additional platforms and improving their stores and offering new features. Sony is offering hollow words – that they will fight on quality.

How can you fight on quality if you aren’t matching your competitors’ features?

No matter how shiny the aluminium of your Sony Reader’s casing it doesn’t make up for high book prices and low selection and the lack of wireless downloads and the lack of Internet browsing for reference.

Sony just isn’t keeping up.

The wild card is the Kindle App Store – It will mean that in addition to Amazon we will have lots of developers adding features to the Kindle 3 and 2 and WiFi. We only need a handful of developers to make killer apps and suddenly Sony is even further behind.

Perhaps most worrying for Sony is that people don’t seem to care about it any more.

Where are the Sony Reader Reviews?

Engadget posted its review on October 8th, 2010. That’s nearly a month after my review and 22 days after the official release date of September 16th, 2010. PC World posted on October 5th. CNet posted its review on September 26th and gave it 6 on features and 7 on performance.

Did Sony not hand out review units? Did people not want to review them? Why is everyone waiting 2 to 3 weeks before reviewing the Sony 350?

There were no ‘exclusives’ and there were no release day reviews. There was no big flurry of reviews and press coverage like we had for Nook and for Kindle 3.

Sony’s release strategy is a mess – either because they don’t care or because people and the Press no longer care. Even Nook WiFi got more press buzz than the new Sony Readers.

Think about that – Nook WiFi got more press coverage than the new generation of Sony Readers. That’s what Sony Reader has devolved too – People don’t even care enough to review the new Sony Readers or write about them when they are first launched.

It makes you wonder if everyone is gradually forgetting that Sony Readers exist. Sony can keep hiding behind excuses like ‘we are focused on international markets’ or ‘we only care about quality’. The truth is that if you release in the biggest eReader market and the Press won’t even review your devices you are just a few steps away from becoming invisible and irrelevant.  

Kindle vs new Sony Reader? Sony PRS 350, PRS 650

The new Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi might soon get some solid competition.

There are rumors that the Sony PRS 350 (follow-on to the Pocket Edition) and Sony PRS 650 (follow-on to the Touch Edition) are set to arrive soon.

Kindle vs new Sony Reader – Sony PRS 350 to take on Kindle WiFi

Sony Insider is a site that focuses on Sony products and they claim an exclusive scoop on the new Sony Reader releases –

According to one of our most trusted sources, there is word that two new touchscreen Sony Reader devices (PRS-350 and PRS-650) with E-Ink technology are coming to the market soon.

The details they unveil for the Sony PRS 350 are –

  1. 5″ eInk touch screen.  
  2. Possible increase in storage capacity to 2 GB.
  3. No wireless.
  4. Note-taking software from PRS 600 added.
  5. 2 weeks battery life.
  6. Word, PDF, ePub, BBeB book, and Adobe Digital Edition compatibility.
  7. Same color choices as before. This was Silver, Rose and Navy Blue for the Pocket Edition.

The touchscreen and note-taking software are good additions. The decision to not have WiFi is puzzling. How much does a WiFi card cost?

There’s no mention of the screen – don’t see how it could be anything other than the new eInk pearl screen. The configuration suggests the Sony PRS 350 might be at $100 to $125.  Hard to see this affecting the Kindle WiFi much.

Kindle vs new Sony Reader – PRS 650 to take on Kindle 3

Here’s what Sony Insider hints at for the Sony PRS 650 –

  1. 6″ eInk screen. No mention whether it’s eInk pearl though it’s very likely. 
  2. 2 GB storage. 
  3. WiFi support. 
  4. Touchscreen.
  5. New UI.
  6. 2 weeks battery life.
  7. Support for PDF, ePub, Word, and Adobe Digital Editions.
  8. Same colors – which would be Silver, Red, and Black.

The combination of touch screen with eInk Pearl (if it is indeed eInk Pearl) and WiFi makes this a more interesting device. If it comes in at below $200 then it will steal a small part of Kindle 3 sales since there’s ePub support and support for Library Books.

However, it doesn’t sound like there are any new killer features added – unless Sony is saving those up for the formal announcement.

new Sony Readers sound pretty boring

Hopefully there’s something in there – some killer feature in addition to the touchscreen. Anything that makes the Sony Readers worthy competitors to Kindle and Nook.

With the Kindle 3 setting a very high bar the last thing Sony can afford is a nonchalant release that doesn’t keep up. Nook 2 might be as impressive as Kindle 3 (or close). The Sony 350 and Sony 650 sound rather drab – Let’s hope Sony surprises us with some killer features that the rumors have missed.