Apple iPad, Kindle, Nook War Could Kill Google Editions, Others

Aug 14th, 2010 | By technologynews | Category: Technology

With Aprils release of the Apple iPad, and recent software
and hardware upgrades for both Amazon.coms Kindle and Barnes & Nobles
Nook, the battle for the e-reader market is well and truly joined. Each of
those three companies seems equally determined to match the others on a number
of competitive fronts, from bookstore size to device features.

Competition, of course, leads to casualties. I dont see
more than two or maybe three dedicated reading companies in the market for
selling ebooks, William J. Lynch, chief executive of Barnes & Noble, told
The New York Times in June
. I think you are starting to see a shake-out

In that spirit, here are three entities who could soon find
themselves squeezed out of the e-reader market:

Smaller E-Reader Companies

On Aug. 10, Plastic
Logic announced the death of its high-end e-reader, the Que
. Originally
intended as a device for business travelers and other highly mobile
professionals, with an ability to download and display documents in a variety
of formats, the Que found itself technologically outpaced even before its
release. Although Plastic Logic executives had originally touted the Ques
ability to add comments, highlight text, and search through files, recent
software updates from Barnes & Noble and Amazon offered comparable
functionality for their own e-readers.

With that in mind, it was difficult for Plastic Logic to
justify the Ques considerable expense: $649 for the 4GB Que, $799 for the 8GB
version with WiFi and 3G.

But with Amazon and Barnes & Noble both lowering the
costs for the Kindle and Nook, other e-reader manufacturers could soon find
their offerings in the proverbial cross-hairs.

Ebook readers from Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon now
are priced at about the break-even level with their Bill of Materials, William
Kidd, director of research firm iSuppli, wrote in a June statement following
price-drops for both the Kindle and Nook. With zero profits on their hardware,
both these companies now hope to make their money in this market through sale
of books.

But Amazon and Barnes & Noble can also leverage their
existing infrastructurenot to mention their marketing millionsto create the
brand awareness necessary to sell millions of ebooks and e-readers through
their own digital storefronts. Smaller e-reader manufacturers lack those
resources; and that, combined with the pressure to drop their devices
price-tags to margin-killing levels, will drive many out of business.

Google Editions

For months, the rumor-mill suggested that Google would debut
its own e-book service to blunt Amazons influence on the market. Termed Google
Editions, said service was supposed to launch sometime this summer, in
conjunction with partners such as the American Booksellers Association (ABA).

According to the plan, Google Editions would make some
400,000 e-books available to Web-enabled devices such as laptops, tablet PCs,
and smartphones. Those volumes would be purchasable directly from Google, via
the Google Checkout system. And whereas Amazon and its current rivals offer
e-books in a proprietary format, the search engine giants own e-bookstore would
theoretically offer more freedom over where and how its e-books could be read.

I dont think anyone who has bought an e-reader in the last
several years has really intended to only buy their digital books from one
provider for life, Tom Turvey, Google Editions director for strategic
partnerships, told
The New York Times

But the longer Google waits to roll out Google Editions (and
the longer it neglects to provide details about how the service will work, in
order to build the all-important buzz) the harder its eventual battle against
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple, all of which have been moving aggressively
to draw readers to their respective platforms. In that context, Googles
chances of breaking off a substantial portion of the e-book market seem dimmer
and dimmer by the week.

Sony E-Readers

On Aug. 11, the
tech blog Slashgear posted a story
about Sony apparently looking to
Android for its future e-reader plans, based on a job posting in its Digital
Reader Business Division.

The cached version of that job posting, Senior Staff
Software Engineer (Android)Digital Reader Business Division can
be found here
. Responsibilities, apparently, include developing
application software for digital reading and other consumer electronic

Its no secret that Sony has fallen behind in the e-reader wars,
especially when it comes to mind-share. In July, Sony
mirrored its rivals price-cuts
, dropping the cost of the Sony Reader
Pocket Edition to $149, the new Daily Edition to $299, and the Touch Edition to
$169. On top of that, Sony recently
shined up the design of its Reader Store for ebooks

But if Sony plans on using Android as the operating system
for its future e-readers, it could be tacit acknowledgment that none of its
previous steps have been enough; through Android, Sony could conceivably add
software features equivalent to those of the ever-more-advanced Kindle and

That would place Sony smack-dab in the middle of whats
become an extraordinarily competitive space, locking jaws with not only Amazon,
Barnes & Noble, and the Apple iPad, but also the upcoming Android-based
tablet PCs. If Sony were willing to spend millions of dollars to aggressively
assert itself in that position, it could translate into a market-share
advantagebut Sony seems reluctant to grow fangs in that regard, with anemic
e-reader marketing and a followers mentality when it comes to pricing and

Unlike smaller e-reader manufacturers, though, Sony has
millions of dollars to sustain its presence in a product category. That could
ensure its placement as an e-reader also-ranbut leaping outright into the fray
against its stronger competitors, without the corporate will or marketing push,
could result in a costly mess. 


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