November 14, 2011

The stage of the holiday eReader showdown is set


Kobo has announced a new $99 touchscreen e-reader just days after the news that the company had been sold to Japan’s leading online retailer, Rakuten, for $315 million. The inexpensive touchscreen ereader is priced to compete with Barnes & Noble’s newly revamped and similarly priced touchscreen model. The difference being that Kobo’s product is decidedly not revamped and will have on-screen ads much like Amazon’s yet cheaper baseline Kindle.

Also making its way to the market is Sony’s PRS-T1 touchscreen e-reader, which is noticeably more expensive than either the Kobo or B&N model, and not exactly garnering rave reviews.

With the new Nook Color Tablet entering stores on the 15th and the Kindle Fire tablet shipping this week as well, the stage has been set for what could be a defining moment in the future of ebooks. Last year’s holiday season brought a record increase in e-reader sales, which of course translated to a revolutionary change in ebook sales. This shift was made all the more interesting by the diversification of the market itself. Barnes & Noble, which was previously an extreme minority when compared with Amazon in the e-reader game, picked up a noticeable market share, gaining more ground than Apple and Kobo combined.

With reviews of the new Kobo device being lackluster and the iPad not receiving an update of note, early prognostications of this next round of jockeying look to be up to B&N and Amazon to sort out.

The circle is essentially drawn, with all the players releasing their various devices for another Black Friday blitz. Each one comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses and both B&N and Amazon have hedged away from books with their Angry Birds ready/streaming video centric color tablets. This of course begs the biggest question, that of whether this year’s generation of multimedia driven devices will have less of an effect on ebooks.

With all these companies releasing new platforms and spending ad money, there can be no doubt that there will be a uptick in ebook consumers. But will ebooks have as big a jump in users as they did last year? Or will Angry Birds and Mad Men see the biggest growth of users instead?


Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.