I wasn’t surprised by the announcement that Sony is leaving the ebook market that it pioneered. Their main problem has always been the premium price that they demanded for their brand name. When I got hired for a six-week contract as a quality assurance test lead in 2005 to work on what would become the Sony Reader in the United States, my manager informed me that the initial price would be $600 USD. That was more than a Sony PlayStation 2. If I couldn’t afford a video game console, I wasn’t getting a dedicated ebook reader.
I was leading a group of ten testers in a conference room to review 300+ English ebooks on Japanese hardware with kanji characters. The engineers in India converted the PDF files from the publishers into HTML files. My group skimmed the ebooks and report any issues. (We weren’t supposed to read the ebooks, but I read every Star Trek novel that came my way and let the testers read if they met their quota for the day.) The engineers in Japan would refine the process. The cycle continued until we ran out of ebooks. I then summarized all our findings in a report on my last day.
I didn’t rush out to get a Sony Reader when it first came out the following year. For the price of a dedicated ebook reader, I got a Mac mini that was far more useful. Almost a decade later I still don’t own a dedicated ebook reader. I read Kindle ebooks on my iPad 2. My next ebook reader could be an iPhone 5C since my cellphone is due for an upgrade and I need a replacement for my first generation iPod Touch that has a battery will no longer hold a charge.
While Sony rested on their brand name, the rest of the industry innovated on technology and price. When I think of dedicated ebook readers, I think of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Sony doesn’t even make it on my list as a distant third. Sony is the perfect example that being first to market isn’t an advantage, especially if the first mover isn’t motivated to maintain a leadership position.
As an ebook publisher, I’ll be removing the Sony links from my author website in the near future. As Smashword’s Mark Coker mentioned in his blog post, ebook sales to Sony was flat for the last four years while other ebook retailers had significant growth. I had a few ebook sales during the same time period. Since Sony is transitioning their readers to Kobo, my Smashwords ebooks will still be available. With Sony out of the way, the drumbeat for Barnes & Noble to get out of the business will get louder.