[Interview] Sony Speaks on E-book Reader Business

Jan 28, 2010
Takuya Otani, Nikkei Electronics
Fujio Noguchi holding Sony's electronic book reader
Fujio Noguchi holding Sony's electronic book reader
[Click to enlarge image]

Sony Corp has been enlarging the electronic book (e-book) market in the US together with Amazon.com Inc. It released an e-book reader with 3G communication capability and tied up with a major media firm to deliver newspaper to the device in December 2009.

Fujio Noguchi, who supervises Sony's e-book business as a deputy president of the Digital Reading Business Division of Sony Electronics Inc, took the podium at a press conference in the first half of January 2010 and answered reporters' questions.

Q: How is the sales of the e-book reader "Reader"?

Noguchi: It is selling very well. Actually, it became the best seller for the Sony Style, our (online) outlet store in the US. Its sales volume quadrupled on a year-over-year basis.

Many people bought it as a Christmas present. And the servers for the Sony Style went down because too many people tried to register on the Web site Dec 25, 2009.

Q: What is the best selling model?

Noguchi: Currently, we have three models. They are the "Reader Pocket Edition," a low-priced model released in August 2009, the "Reader Touch Edition," which comes with a touch panel, and the "Reader Daily Edition," which has a wireless communication capability and was released in December 2009.

Among them, we thought that the Reader Pocket Edition will be the best selling model because of its price of US$199, which we call "magic price." However, the touch-sensitive Reader Touch Edition became the best seller, selling much better than we expected.

Q: Many multi-purpose devices such as tablet PCs and smart books are appearing.

Noguchi: Even now, it is possible to read e-books with many devices including the iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows and Mac PCs. So, to distinguish our devices from others, we will focus on the readability of e-book readers. That's why we use electronic paper.

We also consider it important to make e-book readers that do not have a keyboard and to offer a variety of contents.

Q: Do you have a plan to release color e-book readers?

Noguchi: There are some contents that require a color e-book reader like magazines, photo albums and picture books. Of course, we are considering making color e-book readers, but there is no electronic paper whose quality is high enough for us. We could use LCD panels, but we would like to use electronic paper for our main products.

Q: Are you planning to develop a display for e-book readers by yourself?

Noguchi: The E Ink Corp's electronic paper used for our existing products is made by Sony's standards. So, it is like E Ink and we are co-developing electronic paper. For example, E Ink newly developed 7-inch wide electronic paper for the Reader Daily Edition.

Q: How about the e-book business in the Japanese market?

Noguchi: We are now running the e-book business in eight countries including the US. In non-English-speaking countries, we make our devices support local languages and contents.

We launch our businesses in countries that meet our standards such as the availability of fresh contents. When Japan meets those standards, we will launch the e-book business in Japan, too.