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Sony Chases Amazon, Debuts Two New E-Readers

Sony eBook Readers
Sony's new Reader Touch Edition (L) and Reader Pocket Edition
Source: Sony

Sony today unveiled two new e-readers and is cutting prices of its e-books in a bid to maintain a competitive edge in the burgeoning digital book market -- though the devices lack key features offered by the rival Amazon Kindle.

The electronics giant introduced the PRS-300 Reader Pocket Edition and PRS-600 Reader Touch Edition, which will sell for $199 and $299, respectively. Both will go on sale at the end of August. Sony said the two new e-readers are part of a new line, and it appears they will replace older, more expensive versions of the Sony Reader, the 505 and 700, which cost $269 and $399.

Also, the price of Sony's e-books is being dropped to $9.99, from $11.99, bringing it in line with much of the competition.

"We firmly believe consumers should have choice in every aspect of their digital reading experience," Steve Haber, president of Sony's digital reading business division, said in a statement. "Our goal is to expand the market and provide greater access to what consumers want to read when they want to read it -- whether they buy, borrow or get it for free."

The news comes as the digital book and e-reader market becomes increasingly competitive -- and complex. E-book shipments are slated to increase, with worldwide shipments expected to grow from almost 1 million units in 2008 to close to 30 million units in 2013, according In-Stat, which cites Amazon as the leader with its Kindle (NASDAQ: AMZN).

In addition to Amazon, which offers the Kindle 2 and a larger-screen version, the Kindle DX, Barnes & Noble and hardware-vendor Plastic Logic have teamed to begin selling an e-reader next year. Amazon is already planning to begin using targeted advertising in e-reader content, which will have far-reaching consequences for the publishing industry, authors and interactive marketers.

Meanwhile, in early June, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) said by the end of the year it hopes to have a partnership program in place that allows authors to sell digital versions of their books online.

Google's e-book partner program may offer advantages that front-runner Amazon lacks with its proprietary system that only supports iPhones, iPods and Kindles: greater variety in the way readers access the digital books, and perhaps, a revenue split that's more favorable for authors.

Given the competition, Sony may have a lot of ground to cover, as its devices lack a few key features of the Kindle -- they can't connect wirelessly to an e-book store, which means Sony Reader owners must plug their devices into a computer to buy and download titles.

The new Readers also cannot access magazines or newspapers, and Sony has yet to develop a version of its reading software for Apple's iPhone.

Still, the eBook Store from Sony allows users to access more than one million free public domain books from Google. These titles, which Google has digitized as part of its Google Books project, are available in EPUB format and are optimized for current models of the Sony Reader.

But Sony may also be lagging in the number of non-public domain titles it can offer. Not counting the Google public-domain titles, Sony offers around 200,000 books. Barnes & Noble said its e-book store has 700,000 titles, also with best-sellers and new books priced at $9.99, but that number includes many older books, like Sony's library, that are part of the public domain. Amazon, meanwhile, has 330,000 digital tomes, and most are not public-domain titles.