Is Sony Dropping the Ball on E-Readers?

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E-Readers are poised to be one of the hottest gadget-gifts this holiday season, with three major companies pushing their respective products. Consumers can choose from Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, or Sony's Daily Edition Reader. But on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sony was back-pedaling on its promise to have its e-readers in customers' hands by the holiday season. Citing unanticipated demand, the company said it can't guarantee a final delivery date, though it began taking pre-orders online on Wednesday. The Nook too, won't ship until mid-December, but is still set to arrive in time for Christmas. Bloggers were dismayed that longtime-electronics manufacturer Sony seemed to be dropping the ball when it came to pushing what could potentially be a revolutionary product:

  • Sony 'Can't Shoot Straight' 24/7 Wall St. writer Douglas McIntyre accuses Sony's management of being inept, noting that the company is also failing in the video game market, where it previously reigned supreme. He concedes that the new Daily Edition Reader looks reasonably "promising," but says that shipment delay is further evidence that Sony has lost its way: "This holiday might have offered Sony a chance to improve its reputation which is now one of being a consumer electronics 'also ran'. Instead, it will only add to its own history of disappointing customers."
  • Plan eBay At Engadget, Darren Murph swoons over the technical specifications of Sony's Daily Edition, but upon hearing that the shipments will likely be delayed until January, he offers the following advice: "We'd suggest either settling on a Kindle / Nook or preparing your wallet to deal with 'Tickle Me Elmo' levels of eBay insanity."
  • Retail Revenge The New York Times' tech blogger Brad Stone says that the specs of Sony's e-reader, including a larger screen than its competitors, make it a "fine holiday gift," but he too is worried that the company isn't capitalizing on the moment. His concerns are soothed somewhat by Sony's president of digital reading, Steve Haber, who promises that Sony will overwhelm the competition in physical retail outlets. Here is the paraphrase "The presence of other Reader models in 9,000 retail stores, including Best Buy and Wal-Mart outlets, should give Sony an advantage over rivals during the holidays. Over the summer, for the first time in the three-year history of the business, a majority of Readers were sold in physical stores, rather than online"
  • E-Readers Aren't the Answer E-Week writer Nathan Eddy says that analysts  project 3 million e-readers to be sold in 2009, a paltry number for a product that is hailed as the next big thing. "That number may rise, but unless the pricing for the units decreases rapidly, some analysts feel that e-readers will never reach the generalized penetration rates currently enjoyed by MP3 players and other handheld media devices."
  • Online Sony Store On The Way Even if the E-Reader market doesn't pan out for Sony, the company is casting a wide net at other digital markets. BusinessWeek's Kenji Hall reports that Sony is prepping an online multimedia store to compete with Apple's iTunes. He says it's a promising move in light of Sony's recent string of failures in the gadget market. "Sony's core electronics business has been its biggest problem. The two worst-performing products: TVs and video games. Reversing the losses of those divisions is crucial because they account for more than a quarter of Sony's $82 billion in annual revenues...The thin margins of Sony's hardware business explain why the company badly needs an online strategy."

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