It should have been a match made in heaven.
On the one side, readers of romance novels, which in 2008 accounted for the largest share of the consumer book market.
On the other side, the Sony eReader, which allows downloading of up to 350 books and supports multiple file formats.
But the dowry, starting at $199, is too high.
That was the conclusion of a mass test drive of Sony eReaders conducted by the Smart Bitches Love Trashy Books, a popular romance reader website. The owners of the site wanted to discover some definitive answers about what’s good about eReaders, what’s bad, and what might be preventing them from becoming as ubiquitous for books as iPods are for music.
Sony was good enough to supply 30 eReaders, models 505 and 700, and site owner Sarah Wendell was good enough to mail them out. Bonus: Harlequin Books supplied a $25 gift certificate to get us started downloading. As part of the test drive, I received a 505, the device pictured above.
I sent out a question to all the drivers at the end of the test drive: are you keeping the eReader and what was your biggest factor in the decision?
It’s a really nice device. The test drivers enjoyed having many books at their fingertips, being able to get the books they wanted nearly instantly and they liked being able to download from multiple sites. Unlike its competitor, Amazon’s Kindle, the eReader doesn’t restrict you to Sony’s own library.
Sarah Wendell, the website owner who ran the test, even said that she choose her Sony over the Kindle.
“The main reasons I switched from Kindle to Sony were cost and bargain shopping. Much of what I read is review copies, and emailing documents to the Kindle costs money now – used to be free. But more importantly, I wanted the option to shop at other bookstores that may have better prices. Amazon offers the $9.99 hardback – but most of genre fiction, particularly romance, is paperback, and I frequently found books I wanted cheaper elsewhere. I miss the wireless ease and the shopping ease of the Kindle, but I like having the option to shop and use more than one format.
But by far the best element to the Sony: borrowing ebooks from the library. I have an NYPL [New York Public Library] membership, and I can borrow ebooks for three weeks, and there’s nothing better than that. Can’t do that with the Kindle.”
There were some glitches. The power slide switch seems awfully fragile and setup and registration of the eReaders can bog down. But those were minor factors.
The major factor was price.
But Sony’s price is set too high for most people, even though Sony’s newer models have dropped in price to $199 from $299.
Several of the test drivers pointed out that $199 is close enough to the price of a cheap netbook or an iPod touch and that it made more sense to buy either of those devices rather than on a reader that can only do one thing.
Of the fifteen test drivers who responded to my question, eleven kept their readers. Yet nine of those eleven cited the fact that we were able to buy it at a discounted price of $125 as a decisive element. I was going to send mine back too but $125 was reasonable and so I kept it also. But anything over $125 and I would have sent it back.
One of the four who decided not to keep the eReader, three of them said $125 was still too expensive. One thought the price was fine but decided not to keep it because it wasn’t backlit.
Interestingly, no one had the objection that it didn’t feel like, well, reading a book. I expected to have this problem with the eReader but I found it very easy to get used to, even though I love physical books. I grew especially attached to the ability to make any book instantly large print. Far better than holding a paperback close to my nose.
I suspect if electronic book readers dropped in price down to $99, they would finally take off. Imagine buying one for a loved one as a gift and loading it up with their favorite books. You could give them a year’s worth of reading for about $200.
But whether selling electronic readers at $99 is enough of a profit margin to sustain production, I don’t know. But I do think if the price doesn’t come down, they will eventually all disappear from the market as people buy netbooks and the iPod touch instead.