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'iPod Moment' Has Yet to Arrive for E-Readers

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The Kindle craze is upon us. But, e-readers will need to evolve to reach a broader audience, per The NPD Group’s “E-readers Snapshot Report” released today.
 
While 37 percent of consumers say they are interested in purchasing an e-reader, some 40 percent say they are “somewhat disinterested” or “not interested at all.”
 
Seventy percent of those not interested in e-readers said it is because they prefer the feel of an actual book. This could become less of an issue when e-readers target markets beyond the recreational book reader, said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for market research company The NPD Group
 
The market for Amazon Kindles, Sony Readers and other brands of e-readers is going to be limited as long as they are marketing books, and little else, Rubin said. “In our research, more consumers expressed an interest in magazines and newspapers, rather than just books.” Textbooks are also another growth area, he said.
 
In terms of reading quality, adding a larger, color screen could also draw consumers. However, while these features remain only a future prospect for e-readers, the top features consumers said they wanted in the NPD study are already available. This includes wireless capability (which the Kindle offers) and touch-screen technology (which the Sony Reader provides).
 
“We’re getting close to an iPod moment with e-books,” says Rob Ederle, principal at the San Jose, Calif.–based Ederle Group. “Kindle has shown us how close we are getting, but we can get a lot closer.”
 
Of course, price is always a driving factor. Sony’s new entries into the fray, announced this week, are the $299 Reader Touch Edition, which incorporates touch navigation and page turning, and the portable Reader Pocket Edition, at a smaller size and smaller price point than its competitors, at $199.
 
“Sony is clearly trying to lower the barrier by getting under $200 and reducing the size,” says Rubin. “Those are techniques that traditionally help expand a market in consumer electronics.”
 
The Plastic Logic Reader, meanwhile, slated to launch in 2010, has the advantage of offering a global product. It will connect through AT&T’s 3G network worldwide where the Kindle’s Sprint partnership keeps it American-bound currently. Although it was reported last month that Amazon is negotiating a U.K. launch as early as Christmas this year.
 
When it comes to offering content, Plastic Logic’s Wi-Fi enabled Reader, which recently partnered with bookselling giant Barnes & Noble, is the most likely to play a serious competitor to Amazon’s vast catalog of reading material.
 
Samsung and Sony will need to make inroads in the content department to stay competitive, said Enderle. The wild card is whether or not an open system of booksellers and readers will emerge. With such an open format, digital books may become similar to mp3s—easily passed from one piece of hardware to another, with little impact on quality.