Sony: Its E-book Business Different From Apple's
*This article is a part of a story published in the March 22 2010 edition of Nikkei Electronics. And it is based on information available at that time.
"We are aiming to acquire a share of 40% in the global electronic book market in fiscal 2012," said Sony Corp, which has been leading the US electronic book (e-book) market with Amazon.com Inc.
We interviewed Fujio Noguchi, who supervises Sony's e-book business as deputy president, Digital Reading Business Division, Sony Electronics Inc, about the company's perspective on and strategies for the e-book market. (Interviewer: Yasushi Uchida & Takuya Otani, Nikkei Electronics)
Q: The e-book market is booming now.
Noguchi: As a market, I think it is still at an early stage. For Japan, off course, it is a promising market. And, in the US, which is taking a lead, the size of the e-book reader market is about several million units per year. It is relatively small, considering that the size of the portable music player market is 40 to 50 million units per year in the US.
However, from now, the e-book market will expand much faster than the online music/video delivery market did in the past. We have already gone through the digitization of music and video. We all understand that books will be digitized in the same way.
Q: In fact, various companies are entering the e-book market.
Noguchi: The number of newcomers surprised me. But how many of them are well known? Some of them have already exited the market. It is not that all the companies can survive. Only those who have a comprehensive strength including e-book readers and contents, the reliability of services and the ability to send messages to users will survive.
Q: As for e-book readers, it is becoming important to differentiate their operabilities and UIs (user interfaces) rather than the specifications of hardware.
Noguchi: For the Reader Daily Edition, we came up with various ideas to improve its UI. For example, when a link to a Website is clicked, it is highlighted. Actually, I asked designers to include this function.
(In the case of e-paper), the screen refresh speed is slow, and it is difficult to know if a link was clicked or not. Some users may click the link again. That's why I thought it is necessary to notify the user that the link was clicked. It is important for UIs to tell users, "I heard what you said."
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Q: Apple Inc, which has a reputation for its UIs, entered the e-book market with the iPad.
Noguchi: The iPad is not a product developed only for e-books. What they are practically saying is that various applications are available to the iPad and e-book is just one of them. It is different from what we aim for.
The name of our e-book reader is "Reader," meaning that it is used exclusively for reading. It is not a multi-media player.
The Reader Daily Edition is our first e-book reader that is capable of 3G communication, and we employed the wonderful business model established by Amazon.com. In other words, users do not have to pay a monthly communication fee.
On the other hand, the users of the iPad have to pay a monthly fee for 3G communication. In that respect, I don't think the business model of the iPad is innovative.
Q: Although it is dedicated for reading, users may require color display as contents diversify.
Noguchi: As for color display, its employment depends on the developmental status of color e-paper. I think recently developed color e-paper devices are suited for displaying movies. But I believe that color e-paper should be employed for e-book readers with a focus on displaying texts. So, we are sending such requests to e-paper device makers.
We consider that e-paper's capability of displaying colors is similar to that of ink-jet printers. Ink-jet printers, in their early days, used to soften paper being printed and could not print colors with satisfactory qualities. However, recent ink-jet printers can print out even gravure pictures with high qualities.
In the case of e-paper, too, it is difficult to display high-quality colors at first. But, as the market expands, its technologies will evolve.
Q: What do you think about Sony's reentry into the Japanese e-book market? Note 1)
Note 1) Sony launched an e-book reader and an online e-book store for it in Japan Dec 10, 2010.
Noguchi: Currently, we are operating our e-book business in eight countries including the US Note 2). And we will start the business in other countries after they pass certain standards concerning the quality and quantity of contents. Reentry into the Japanese market depends on whether Japan will pass those standards.
Note 2) Currently, Sony is operating its e-book business in 14 countries including the US and Japan (14th country).
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Books are culture. They are more so than music or movies. They are read from right and left. Characters are printed horizontally and vertically. There are many manners of reading books. So, it is important to create products and services in consideration of the culture of each region.
In Japan, we have to do the business by paying attention to its own book culture. We have to consider how to learn from the global trends in e-books, how to apply them to the Japanese culture and how to pass down the book culture to our posterity.
We are now at an extremely important phase. And it is very important to do e-book business by keeping it in mind.