Sony’s Steve Haber on eReaders

Presidentstevehaber_100x100.jpg of Sony’s Digital Reading Division Steve Haber was the first speaker on day two of the eBook Summit. He spoke with eloquence and calm, playing down the fact that the Sony Readers–even the new touch and 3G versions–are not the slickest looking (Nook?) or most popular (Kindle) readers on the market. But, Sony was first. Haber noted that Sony developed the first reader in Japan in 2003, and explained that the 6″ screen that has become the eReader standard is in fact the size of a Japanese paperback.

He began with a little pep-talk for the Industry, saying, “in my experience it’s very natural” to be scared of new technology, but that eReaders are “an opportunity to take the business to a whole new level.” Nothing revolutionary there. Things got more interesting when Haber began comparing the book industry’s transition to digital to similar transitions in other media. He noted that while turntable manufacturer’s were miserable about the transition to CD, record companies found their back catalogs reselling. He indicated that publishing is in the same place, dragging its feet. (Guy L. Gonzales, who was tweeting from the audience as @glecharles, made this pertinent observation, however: “Haber’s equating digital cameras to eReaders as if publishers were tech companies. Bizarre.”)

He noted that changes in technology drives consumer interest, and that content companies need to then follow consumers. According to Haber, no consumer has said “could you please delay the eBook–we’re not ready.”

During the Q&A with Lance Ulanoff of PC Mag, Haber said Amazon got more buzz than Sony, even though Sony was first, because Amazon had better “exposure” and is “a player in the book industry known for books.” (It also might have had something to do with the wireless eBook store.) He made the questionable assertion that tablets are less “cozy” than eReaders. He cited the Blyth Academy in Canada, which has gone all-digital, replacing all textbooks with Sony Readers. He said DRM helped grow the industry, that it works for now, but might not later. And he asserted that Sony still plans to get the 3G Daily Edition of the Reader into stores before Christmas (how?) and urged publishers to “Make your content more interactive.”