- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO

Electronic books often are mentioned in the same breath as Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle digital reader. Now e-book rival Sony Corp. is determined to recapture consumers’ attention with a smaller Reader that’s also $100 cheaper.

According to Businessweek.com, Sony’s Reader Pocket Edition is expected on store shelves by the end of the month. Like the Kindle and Sony’s previous Readers, the Pocket Edition will come with an “electronic ink” display, which shows dark gray text on a lighter gray background. Its 5-inch screen will be smaller than that on the Kindle and other Sony models.

Unlike other Readers, the Pocket Edition won’t play digital music files, and it won’t have a slot for a memory card to supplement internal storage that can hold 350 books.

It will retail for $199, a third off the price of the basic Kindle model and about $80 less than Sony’s PRS-505 reader, which will be discontinued.

The device is entering a small but growing market. U.S. e-book sales totaled $113 million last year - up 68 percent from 2007 but still a fraction of the estimated $24.3 billion spent on all books, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Steve Haber, president of Sony’s Digital Reading Business Division, says he is not worried that the Pocket Edition’s chances for success will be diminished by the rising popularity of reading e-books on smartphones such as the iPhone and BlackBerry.

“Once you see it, it’s been a consistent response of ‘That’s cool,’ ” he says.

Sarah Rotman Epps, a media analyst at Forrester Research, says the Pocket Edition’s below-$200 breaks an important psychological barrier. She forecasts sales of 2 million digital reading devices this year and says a few more than 1 million were sold by the end of last year.

She doesn’t expect Amazon to rest on its laurels but says the online retailer will have to respond to counter Sony’s new price point.

Sony also announced the release of a $299 touch-screen model to replace its existing $350 touch-screen PRS-700. The Touch Edition will have the same 6-inch screen as its predecessor but not the PRS-700’s built-in light. Mr. Haber says removing the light will correct some screen clarity problems it has caused.

With the PRS-700, users can highlight text and take notes with a touch-screen keyboard. On the new model, users also can write notes with a finger or a stylus that is included.

The new model has a built-in dictionary and is faster at changing pages when readers swipe a finger across the screen. It will sell in red, silver or black and can hold 350 books in its built-in memory or more on a memory card.

A big difference between Sony’s Readers and Amazon’s Kindle always has been the Readers’ lack of wireless access for quick and simple downloads of books. The new models are no different: They have to be connected to a computer to acquire books.

For the first time, they will be compatible with PCs and Mac computers, however.

As he has indicated in the past, Mr. Haber says Sony is working on a wireless model, but he wouldn’t say when it might be available.

Sony also is adjusting prices to some of the e-books it sells through its online eBook Store. New releases and best-sellers will sell for $10, $2 less than current prices. Amazon’s Kindle Store offers most best-sellers and new releases for $10.

Sony’s eBook Store includes more than 100,000 books as well as a million free public-domain books available from Google Inc. through its Google Books project. The KindleStore has more than 330,000 available titles.

The Kindle can only download books from Amazon’s store, while Sony’s Readers can display texts sold in the “epub” format - an open standard supported by the International Digital Publishing Forum that numerous publishers use to make e-books.

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