Book ‘Em

By all accounts, Black Friday (a mere 11 days hence) will usher in tidings of comfort and joy for the likes of Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook and iPad. Sure, you’ve heard tech prognostications aplenty in the past when it comes to e-readers, but the breakout seems to be upon us. This time last year, 3.7 million people were reading e-books, per Forrester; now, it’s well over 10 million. With pickings like that, it’s no surprise that brands are cranking up the marketing efforts early. Just-released Amazon ads show a grandmother buying a Kindle for her grandson. Sony has announced a partnership with Martha Stewart just in time for the holiday rush. And Barnes & Noble is hoping its in-store Nook boutiques (“our most amazing marketing vehicle,” says president Jamie Iannone) will deliver sales. “All the forces are lining up to create a healthy selling season,” says Paul Verna, senior analyst at eMarketer. “It would be hard to stop it.” Here are snapshots of the four major e-reader players heading into the holiday retail season.

Amazon Kindle [$139]  
Units Sold in 2010*: Estimated at 5 million
Positioning: First to market and now at a lower price, the Kindle may be losing market share (Credit Suisse sees a slip to 35 percent by 2015 from this year’s 72 percent). But maybe the warm-and-fuzzy holiday ads will help.
The CEO says: “This holiday season we’ll have the best prices, the biggest selection, the highest in-stock and the fastest delivery in our history,” said Jeff Bezos in an October statement.
Analyst Prediction: “Apple poses a huge threat to the Kindle, which has taken a number of steps, including cutting its price to stay competitive. But the good news is that the market’s big enough for both to do quite well.” —Paul Carton, director of research, ChangeWave

Sony Reader [$149]       
Units Sold in 2010†: Approx. 1.5 million
Positioning: Sony cut its prices in July and is building what it calls  “book club community” tied in with Martha Stewart’s The Martha Blog. Stewart is “a major tastemaker and media personality” who will “showcase the benefits of the Reader,” says a rep.
The CEO says: “The burgeoning e-book market is a significant business opportunity. We have launched a broad lineup of Reader digital books that…contain features consumers want, at prices they can afford.” —Howard Stringer from 2010 Annual Report
Analyst Prediction: “While Amazon’s focused on cost, Sony will focus on differentiation. They still have a bright future.” —Dmitriy Molchanov, Yankee Group

Barnes & Noble’s Nook [$249]        
Units Sold in 2010††: “Well over 1 million” Nooks sold, CEO William Lynch announced on Oct. 26.
Positioning: Making its debut in October, the Nook Color is a hybrid between the traditional
e-reader and a tablet—though some grumble the LCD is harder to read than the black-and-white E Ink screen. Still, the Nook Color undercuts the iPad by $250, and B&N has landed the device at Best Buy and Walmart in hopes of scoring bigger holiday sales.
The prez says: “This is going to be the hot gift of the year. Folks are not seeing any other device like this. I’m extremely optimistic.” —Jamie Iannone, president,
Analyst Prediction: “The Nook Color is a bold move,” says Gartner analyst Allen Weiner, “because it’s saying that reading goes beyond just books.”

Apple iPad [$499]       
Units Sold in 2010**: 7.5 million
Positioning: As of this past
summer, 63 percent of potential e-reader buyers had their hearts and wallets set on Apple’s iPad, according to a survey by ChangeWave.
The CEO says: With the iPad, Steve Jobs told analysts during a rare call in October, “I’m convinced we’ve got a tiger by the tail here.”
Analyst Prediction: “There’s a lot of excitement around the iPad for the holidays and a lot of momentum behind it. We’ll likely see a great fourth quarter for Apple because they get tremendous store traffic.” —Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis, NPD’s Consumer Technology Division