Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Sony’s New Reader, Plus Free Library Books, Passes My “Dad Test.” Is That Enough?

librarytruck1Sony started selling e-book readers long before Amazon, but blew its lead. So how can it catch up with its new device, which looks and works much like the Kindle, but costs $100 more?

After Sony unveiled its new line of readers this morning, I posed that question to Sony executive Steve Haber, who immediately pointed out that his “Daily Edition” machine has a slightly bigger screen than the Kindle 2 and boasts a touchscreen. (You can check out my interview with him at the bottom of this post.)

Both of these sound like nice upgrades from Amazon’s (AMZN) machine–I can’t actually tell you if they are since Sony (SNE) was simply showing the device today without actually demoing it. But I don’t think they’re enough to convince someone to shell out another $100.

But Sony does have one feature that sounds much more interesting–at least on electronic paper (Heh-heh. Get it?). The device will let you check out books, for free, from your local library.

In theory, Sony’s library program will work the way conventional books work now: Participating libraries purchase a given number of electronic copies of a particular book and lend them out, one at a time. The books will disappear at the end of the lending period, which will cut down on flexibility, but will also eliminate late fees.

We’ll see how this works in practice. The most obvious hurdle is convincing enough libraries to buy enough books to satisfy e-book owners who expect to be able to check out whatever they like, whenever they like.

But! If Sony can arrange this, it will convince people like my dad, who likes technology and hates spending money. We’ve talked about e-books for years and his line has always been the same: He’s a big reader who’s not attached to the idea of ink-and-paper books, and he’s happy to shell out a couple hundred bucks for a reading device. But he hates the idea of paying for books he’ll only read once.

So let’s assume that Sony and the libraries it is working with can deliver on the promising concept. Dad’s in. Are there enough of him to help Sony catch up?


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus