Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Sony Exits eReaders and eBooks

The ebook phenomenon was created by the Gutenberg Project, by all accounts, way back in the late eighties/early nineties.  As a project it has been very successful and introduced the world to a natural evolution of reading.  However it took the likes of Sony to turn this pioneering work into the industry it is today.

Sony took a leap of faith, created superb electronic devices  and an eBook store at a time when it was far from clear that there was a market for this.  And to be fair they created what could only be described as a niche product, bought by a few, coveted by many, myself included.  The reality is that the early eReaders were expensive, and that was a deterrent to many of us to buying one.

Then along came the big A, who managed to popularise the eReader and eBooks as no one else had, achieving economies of scale coupled with their marketing capabilities. Sony had a few choices at this point and history will probably show they tried several avenues.

Initially they tried to compete with Amazon on price, but instead of re-engineering their product line to produce less expensive devices they kept on building high quality products, just with less features. It was never going to appeal to the consumers who now had a choice of products, and it didn't work for die-hard Sony fans either.

Over time they have seen their market presence stagnate as Amazon's rockets.  What should they have done? Well, in my opinion - and if you delve through my blog posts over the last few years you will find I've been quite consistent on this - they should have met Amazon head on with full featured devices manufactured to a lower price point. Sure there would have been a reduction in the life of each device, but the speed of change in the technology and the industry means we all change our devices fairly regularly anyway. And Sony had an ace that should have given them the edge - they stayed with an industry standard format - EPub - that Amazon shunned.  Books bought for the Sony or other EPub compatible devices could be legitimately shared, whereas Amazon have forged a singular path that benefits only themselves.

So Sony have announced that they are ceasing production of eReaders - itself not a surprise as I have been forecasting the demise of the dedicated eReader for some time - plus they are exiting the eBook world as well.  They are closing down their eBook store and transferring their library to Kobo who is continuing to remain a thorn in the side of the big A. I guess that without the hardware business the eBook side didn't make sense to a manufacturing company like Sony and by all accounts their sales only account for about 2% of the total market share anyway.

Nonetheless it is a sad day for the industry, but it is a decision that probably makes a huge amount of sense for Sony and maybe, in a perverse way, it will help make the industry stronger by being more focussed on a smaller number of manufacturers.  Only time will tell.

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