My 11-year-old son had a dilemma last night. He had zipped through the first two books in the Twilight series and was keen to start on the third, Eclipse. But the book my wife quickly picked up at the library was in Spanish. Oops.
So we tried an experiment. Two weeks ago, I won a Sony Reader Pocket Edition in a raffle. It’s a slim gadget with a 5-inch screen, the electronics giant’s answer to the Amazon Kindle. I futzed with it a bit since I got it, but really hadn’t put it through its paces.
Last night was my son’s turn. One of the neat features of the Sony Reader is that you can “borrow” electronic books from participating libraries, including ones in New York, Chicago and my public library in Seattle. So I went to digital media page on its Web site and searched for Eclipse. It turns out that six of the library’s eight copies of the book in Adobe’s eBook format, which works with Sony’s eBook devices, were available to borrow for 21 days. I typed in my library card number and PIN, clicked download, and a few seconds later, the book was on my PC. Then, I connected the Sony Reader via the USB port and the book zipped over to my device.
My Pocket Edition version is the least expensive of the Sony Readers, priced at $199. Sony has one other Reader on the market now, the $299 Touch Edition, a 6-inch touch-screen model. And on Dec. 18 it will launch the $399 Daily Edition, a 7-inch touch-screen version with 3G connectivity, so users can download books without having to plug the device into their PCs.
Earlier in the day, I met with Steve Haber, the president of Sony’s digital reading division, who was on a press swing through Seattle. The point he harped on more than any other was the access to books that the Sony device offers. “It’s not a closed business model,” Haber says, without mentioning the Kindle, which doesn’t offer the same library content. When I asked Haber where he thought the next breakthroughs for the device would be, he stayed on message. “We want to innovate to get better and better access to content,” Haber says. Reader owners can already buy electronic books from 200 bookstores, including big chains such as Borders and independent booksellers such as the terrific Powell’s Books in Portland, as well as Sony's eBook Store.
I don’t know how important those booksellers will be to the success of the Sony Reader. The Kindle has mindshare as well as market share. But the opportunity to instantly get a book from the library at 8 pm so my 11-year-old could have something to read before bed was pretty nifty. And it didn’t cost me a dime.
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