The Sony Reader is Doomed

I just posted a review of the new Sony Readers. I admit that it's not a great review. But TBH I was rather underwhelmed by ereaders. They're basically the same as last year's models. For 3 years now, Sony has consistently been a step behind everyone else.  In 2008, they released the PRS-700, an ereader that still causes people to wince at the sight of the touchscreen (no Wifi). In 2009 they released the PRS-300 and PRS- 600 (still no Wifi) and then followed it up with the PRS-900 in January (3G but still no Wifi). I think the PRS-900 marked the beginning of the end for Sony. B&N shipped the Nook in November, and in terms of innovation that shifted Sony from 2nd place to 3rd place in the US market.

And in 2010 it has only gotten worse. Pocketbook released the Wifi equipped PB-302 ereader in February, It wasn't a great ereader, but it still did something no Sony Reader could do. And then the Kobo Wifi got Sony kicked out of Wal-mart (5th place now).

You might not think connectivity is important, but apparently everyone else disagrees. Heck, Pandigital managed to field a Wifi equipped ereader, and they just entered the industry in _May_. Think about that for a second. Sony is being out innovated by a digital picture frame company.

Let's take it one step further. Who is working on a Mirasol ereader? Pocketbook. Who just showed off a color E-ink ereader? Hanvon. They're coming up with new stuff while Sony incrementally improved last year's stuff. Now do you see why I think the Sony Reader is doomed?

Do you want to know an even bigger FacePalm moment? The recent Sony Readers could have been released with the ability to buy ebooks from B&N. (Trust me, I am quite certain that I have my facts correct.) Sony deliberately crippled the new gadgets. WTH, Sony?

About Nate Hoffelder (11370 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

29 Comments on The Sony Reader is Doomed

  1. They are much improved from last years models. They are much faster and the pearl e ink with the touch screen glass layer removed, makes them great to look at.

    They are also smaller in physical size and weigh less than the previous models. The 650 is far smaller than the Nook or Kindle because it does not need the keyboard. The 950 is roughly the same size as the Nook which is nice because it has a 7 inch screen.

    What really dooms the Sony’s are price. They just are not competitive when they cost so much more than Nooks and Kindles (and even the Kobo). The average person is going to gravitate to these devices on just price alone.

    The Pandigital is just a piece of crap and you know it.

    Where can the average consumer in the US find a Pocketbook to buy. No place!

    It’s going to be Kindle and Nook for the near future.

    • Mostly agree.

      Wifi ? Never used, ever missed. I do have lots of books ready to be read. Copy them to a SD card or use PC USB connection. No need for Wifi.

      That may not be true for all of us. But Wifi is only a “nice to have” feature” not a must.

    • Actually, Pocketbook USA is starting to set up Mall kiosks. Not sure that is the way to go but it does show they understand the need to get B&M presence in the US.

  2. The problem with your prediction is that if you are correct, it is a crying shame. At least 2 of the 3 Sony EBRs are unequalled as portable devices for actual reading.

    The 350 is the only truly pocketable dedicated EBR. Sure, it has to be side loaded, but I suspect that helps keep it small.

    The 950 is a nice device for bag or briefcase. The 7 inch screen is the best size there is for portable reading. Anything larger becomes cumbersome. And it is wi-fi.

    And I believe that it is correct to say that it is the most open dedicated EBR. I agree, though, that if they had a chance to support B&N, they made a dumb decision.

    It’s the 650 that can’t compete. Add wireless and that might change, although Amazon still has a tremendous advantage with its Kindle bookstore.

    You must also bear in mind that Sony is still on top outside the US.

    So while Sony seems to have blown the chance to be a strong number 2 in the US, it does not appear doomed to me.

  3. They have innovated in hardware, and I give them points for switching to ePub, but their software is not up to their premium prices (good but not great).

    The lack of B&N ePub support indicates to me that they still think their ebook store can be a player, even though Amazon and B&N and Kobo have 3G or WiFi though out their line. A strategy of selling premium Readers could have worked if they added B&N support. They seem instead to be trying the ebook store as hub approach, e.g. with iPhone and Android apps coming soon, and running 3rd or 4th at that game.

  4. recently purchased a PRS950 for my wife and the 650 for me, but what do i know…….

  5. wifi is overrated…

    If I had the choice between a Kobo with wifi, or Sony without one, I’d go for the Sony. I find touchscreen and quality of the screen much more important. And I must say, I love the touchscreen on my Sony!

    And about price. The Sony isn’t so outpriced by most readers on the European market…

  6. And don’t forget that Sony’s reader comes with a host of translation dictionaries. Wonderful, in combination with the touch screen, for people who’s first language is NOT English.

  7. Did you charge it over night?

  8. Nate, the reason why everyone is releasing new EBRs with wi-fi is because bloggers and tech gadget reviewers have latched onto that one feature as THE must-have feature. Consequently, regardless of how good an EBR is for reading, it gets downgraded significantly if it lacks wi-fi. And as we well know from the content of the reviews, few of the reviewers either read books or spend much time with the EBRs. Badly written and researched opinions are driving the wi-fi craze.

    I’ll ask again (and again and again): how many times in a 30-day period does the average EBR owner use the wi-fi to download a book to read? In my case, I used it twice on my Sony 950.

    And I’ll ask again (and again and again): how many times does the reader make use of an EBR’s built-in dictionary during the same 30-day period? In my case, I average twice a day or about 60 times in the same 30 days that I used the wi-fi only twice to download ebooks. Much more important to me is the ease with which I can access the dictionaries on my Sony 950 (an easy double-tap on the word and voila). Yet I have not read a single review that emphasized this feature or even compared the Sony’s ease of dictionary use to the significantly more cumbersome method required on the Kindle.

    I think the only thing you have right about Sony’s failure with the new models is the failure to provide B&N ePub support, something that should be fixable with a firmware upgrade. BTW, rumor has it that a firmware upgrade is coming in the next month or two from Sony.

    Too many reviewers and bloggers are wrapped up with the latest is the greatest (remember when everyone said the iPad would be the death of dedicated EBRs?) and the mostest is the greatest — neither of which is necessarily true if one wants an EBR for the pleasure of reading rather than surfing the Internet.

    • >>>I’ll ask again (and again and again): how many times in a 30-day period does the average EBR owner use the wi-fi to download a book to read? In my case, I used it twice on my Sony 950.

      This is because the Sony eBookstore is basically crap. Now if it was at all like the Kindle Store, you’d probably be downloading a damn freebie or two EVERY DAY. Some days I have downloaded over TEN — and I just have Kindle for PC.

    • Agreed. Wireless being a “must have” issue is being fed by reviewers.

      • I disagree.

        The problem here is that everyone else added Wifi, and Sony did not. That’s why I say they are lagging behind.

        • Seeing as people are finally adding things that have been standard fare on the Sony Readers, I’m thinking your definition of “lagging behind” is limited to the one feature you, dear reviewer, think is important and/or a deal-breaker.

          Wifi is a means of locking the consumer into only dealing from the ebook store of the company who made the particular ereader.

          The only argument I’ve seen for wireless being important that I buy is the neophyte angle and that’s gone all plooie with the wifi-only instead of 3g. And hell, most of those folks were buying Kindles and Nooks because of marketing first, and price second, not because of tech specs or wireless connectivity.

  9. I disagree with your assessment. They are doomed if they don’t add wireless ASAP. But their record for fast innovation just isn’t there. The Pocket Edition is the best damned thing out there, I think. Just lacks the wireless.

  10. It really doesn’t matter how important wifi actually is in practice or how negligible Sony reader owners have found it.

    Tethered synchronization is 1997-2008 outdated technology, and everyone knows it.

    The lack of wifi in these devices has nothing to do with size. Sony has some other reason (perhaps dealing with wifi support calls or some other thing).

  11. I have had a Nook and Sony ereaders. Currently, I am using a PRS-650 and love it. I could care less about wifi or 3G. When I had the Nook with both, I barely used the connectivity — it was even a distraction from reading “oh, lemme just [insert something to do over wifi/3G]”. Sony readers are going to do fine, it’s just bloggers like you who latch onto the idea that wifi/3G is a major selling point that will continue to drive ereader makers into putting it into their devices.

  12. The kind of people reading this are *not* the readers that matter today.
    Ebookss are no longer a hobbyist/enthusiast/techie business. It is a mass market business.

    If you are computer literate and know your way to Mobileread and Calibre and terms like side-loading and DRM-removal don’t leave you scratching your head, then you can live without wireless. Wireless is just a convenience

    On the other extreme, there are a *LOT* of people buying Kindles and Nooks *because* they don’t need *any* PC expertise. Zero.

    Guess what?
    There’s there’s a heck of a lot more of the latter than the former.
    How big is is the divide?
    The best numbers avaiable suggest that half of the ebook readers sold in the last year are Kindles. Add-in Nook and the other wireless-reader vendors and its pretty clear that over 75% of the market is buying wireless.
    No company is going to prosper by ignoring 75% of a small but growing market.

    There is no question that Sony has a lot of worldwide visibility in ebooks but visibility does not automatically equal sales and the fact that Sony stubbornly refuses to accept that ebook readers are all about ebook *ACCESS* means they are giving up on the growth portion of the industry, the mass market.
    I don’t necessarily think Sony is doomed but if they don’t wake up and get serious about reaching out to the full market they might as well get out of the business willingly before they’re laughed out of it.

    • >>>On the other extreme, there are a *LOT* of people buying Kindles and Nooks *because* they don’t need *any* PC expertise. Zero.

      Exactly.

    • I would argue a lot of people are buying Kindles and Nooks due to marketing more so than wireless connectivity. Here, in 2011, the wireless of choice is wifi, and that’s hardly as neophyte-friendly as 3G is.

    • fjtorres wrote: “I don’t necessarily think Sony is doomed but if they don’t wake up and get serious about reaching out to the full market they might as well get out of the business willingly before they’re laughed out of it” … Nov 29, 2010

      and here we are more than six months later and Nook Touch and Kobo Touch are about to go on sale for $100 less than the same size 6″ Pearl eink screen, using the same touch technology, playing the same ePub format books … abt 40% cheaper for the “same thing”.

      Yes, Sony got there first with the new hardware … but what have they done in the past year? Other than let a leading competitor and a no-name brand catch up? And drastically undercut them?

      What has Sony done to enhance its shopping experience in the past year? What have they done to make their customer’s investments extend across multiple platforms?

      And now, $3 billion in the hole in Q3 thanks to tsunamis, hackers, and lousy sales and marketing execution worldwide — of which the failure of Sony to deign to meet the competition in the ereader space is merely a glaring footnote.

      No, not necessarily doomed … but several steps further out on the gang-plank since last November.

      • I don’t think Kobo are a no-name brand anymore. I’d say that they’ve passed Sony to join the Big 3.

      • “And now, $3 billion in the hole in Q3 thanks to tsunamis, hackers, and lousy sales and marketing execution worldwide —”

        Should Sony not come out with a new reader or get out of the ebook business altogether, my money is on the things that have served as distractions (including natural disasters/security issue/ as well as their gaming/tvs/computers etc lines) far more than the “the failure of Sony to deign to meet the competition” of wireless connectivity.

  13. Sony, it seems, is trying to maintain it’s reader status in a market which is sliding closer to tablet PC’s. I believe the biggest problem with Sony is their price vs. functionality. If Sony doesn’t want to add connect ability then their price should reflect that. They shouldn’t try and maintain the same pricing without the competitive features. There is room for both types of platforms in the market. I think they should all decide if they want to be tablet PC’s or e book readers.

  14. I agree with fjtorres. As hard as it is for Sony and those of you ( not me, mine is superficial) with knowledge to accept this knowledge is redundant in the mass (75%) market and the mass market WANTS it that way. It is hard for a company like Sony, which is too proud to hypnotise the masses as Apple does with smoke and mirrors , to overlook what is missing, in order to sell its beautiful designs. In that case Sony must change to give the market what it wants regardless of need or commit harikari. There are no alternatives in business or war.

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