Ebook Readers at BEA

The Cool-Er eReader:


The BeBook Reader:

There are four ebook reader company's with booths here at the BookExpo of America. Amazon with the Kindle, Sony with the Sony Reader, Hanlin Endless Ideas with the BEBook, and CoolReaders with the Cool-Er eReader. Most interesting are the developments of the BEBook Reader and the Cool-Er which are both marketing inexpensive competitors to their Sony and Amazon rivals. The BEBook reader will, by the end of June, come out with a $200 reader and Cool-Er's device, to ship in early June, costs $250. Both are smaller and lighter than the Kindle or Sony Reader (the BEBook quite a bit smaller). They both load books connected to a computer, like the Sony Reader, but with a $30 upgrade the BEBook device has an add-on for a 3G card, which you can then use with a dataplan from T-Mobile (and perhaps soon other providers as well). However, unlike the Kindle, the BEBook does not have a built-in keyboard, so in order to search for a book or navigate to a website, one must laboriously use arrow keys to choose letters from a keyboard. BEBook is also coming out with their BEBook 2, a touchscreen device that will also have the ability to access the Internet via a dataplan. Both the BEBook and the Cool-Er eReader read PDF and ePub formatted ebooks, making them friendly to third-party book sources, just as the Sony Reader does and the Kindle does not. Interestingly, the BEBook does not have its own dedicated ebook store, so all ebooks for it are third-party, however it can read encrypted (DRM'd) MobiPocket (PRC) files, giving them access to the massive eReader.com store (see Edit 2 below). The Cool-Er reader only reads unencrypted MobiPocket ebooks and the Sony Reader and Kindle both don't read them at all.

There were other important differences. Take, for example the ebook stores. Here's the price of one bestseller in all the stores:
The Host by Stephenie Meyer
Amazon: $9.99
FictionWise: $9.95
eReader.com: $9.95
Sony eBookstore: $11.99
Cool-Er Bookstore: $20.79

I asked the Cool-Er people why the book was so much more expensive at their store. He said that other stores sell books at massive discounts as loss-leaders and the Cool-Er store does not, giving a simple 25% off list price of all books for Cool-Er eReader owners. He said that often the older ebooks, that were not loss-leaders, were cheaper at Cool-Er than at other ebook stores.

It seems to me that if the Cool-Er eReader had come out a few years ago it would have killed. It's much cheaper than the Kindle, it's small and light, and even if its bestsellers are expensive, enough people wouldn't have cared or gotten cracked pirated ebooks or been happy with free public domain stuff to make a decent market for it. However, for this to be coming out at the same time as the $200 BeBook Reader, it's going to get killed, because if you're going to go for a cheap, non-brand-name device anyway, you're going to go for the one that's cheaper and has cheaper books. The Cool-Er eReader simply doesn't offer any advantages.

I asked the Cool-Er people if they were worried about the BeBook device, and they seemed rather defensive. They told me that the most expensive part of the device is the eInk display which needs to be licensed from the E Ink Corporation, and until there's more competition the prices can't come down, and they expressed doubt that the BeBook people could be making any money on their device. But from a consumer perspective, so what?

If you want something with non-data-contract 3G Internet and are willing to pay $9.99 for ebooks without being able to download ebooks from other sources, you will still get the Kindle. If you want a cheap ebook reader that can read everything, you'll get the BeBook. The Sony Reader may keep some sales because of name recognition and market penetration, and brand-name reliability of Sony's hardware reputation. But the Cool-Er eReader? Well, I'm not sure who's going to buy that.

EDIT: I do want to point out that the Cool-Er eReader with its iPod-ispired looks is clearly the best-looking of the ebook readers out there right now. So it may get some sales from people who want an attractive device. But their booth at BEA was also the most crass, with a busty girl in a bathing suit pouring margaritas. At least they wanted to talk to people and attract attention, unlike, say, the Kindle folks who told me they were there to conduct business not interact with the public, and answered all my questions with "no comment".

The Sony Reader still has the problem of its software not being available for the Mac, as I've discussed before, but their representative (who was quite forthcoming and knowledgeable) assured me the software would be available for Mac before the end of the year.

EDIT 2: I have been corrected on one point: eReader.com does not sell DRM'd .prc files, but .pdb files, which the BeBook Reader does not read. This makes the Cool-Er a bit more competitive to the BeBook, but I still think the price point is going to be the key thing.

Comments

The Sony PRS505 competes at

The Sony PRS505 competes at the COOL-ER's price point. I've used it for a while and my only complaints (other than something like Readius' folding screen) are that the buttons seem to be getting looser with use and it's a bit heavy for one-handed reading. I'm hoping the COOL-ER, which is 25% lighter, will not have those flaws. The BeBook is cheap but it's as heavy as the Sony, so I don't think I'll look at that.

As far as long-term business prospects, I think Sony has a huge advantage in that they are present in retail stores where you can hold them and see what using them is like before you buy.

Huh? The Sony PRS-505 is $300

Huh? The Sony PRS-505 is $300 ($264 at Amazon.com). The Cool-Er is $150. That's not the same price point.

I assume you meant $250

I assume you meant $250 because if you found a $150 COOL-ER I want to know about it. And then you add (mandatory) $20 shipping to make that $270. And as your Amazon search showed the Sony can be had at below the $300, and I doubt the shipping from such a place would be $20, so I think they're about even. But even if there were a $30 difference I still call that the same price point, especially since there's usually a premium price to get the Sony brand.

You're right, it's $250.

You're right, it's $250. Still, I'd recommend the Cool-Er reader at this point because Sony's customer service is awful:
http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=content/sonys-garbage-customer-service