Friday, December 18, 2009

The Man from Sony Say…

Sony has a history of getting things both right and wrong. They got the walkman right, they got the betamax technology right, but then they positioned it woefully wrong and it was beaten by inferior technology - VHS. Today they are making a big play to be ‘the player’ in the ebook space. They claim to show the greatest emapthy with the market ,but to-date have got much more wrong than right.

However, when you are Sony you probably believe you can walk on water.

Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division, thinks Jeff Bezos and co. have made some critical mistakes, but is he right, or is he just playing to his audience of Amazon bashers?

Speaking this week in New York, Haber entered the debate on ebook pricing, "The $9.99 price point is not a money-maker. Certain bestsellers are sold at that price for retail, competitive reasons. But you need to have a range. You could go from $10 to $20 even to $100 for an e-book. There's no sweet spot and it's certainly not $9.99."
On what does he base these words of wisdom? Some may suggest that his 21 years in consumer electronics is hardly a qualification to lecture publishing, but there again this is SonyWorld. Some would argue that the price of the reader is his issue and the price of the content is beyond his remit and control. ebooks and their pricing is just a sideline and Sony makes money is on the sale of tin (reader) not the content.

Sony is unlikely to offer the next iTunes (Sony missed that one too) and buyers who stumble across the Sony bookstore are unlikely to be impressed either by their offer or its pricing.

So are they retailers or just tin manufacturers?

Sony believe they have demonstrated leadership on the emotive question of DRM and standards. After all they were the first to back epub and Adobe and when they launched demanded and got a DRM exclusive and still fail to recognise Adobe ebooks as being on a par with epub. Their initial proprietary stance clearly says much about their views. Today they clearly believe epub and DRM gives them the edge over Amazon but they fail to recognise that with epub and Adobe DRM being available from everyone there is little to distinguish them from the pack of ‘lookie likie’ eink readers.

They are a single offer platform in a multi platform world. Won would have thought that they would have offered a constant offer across their mobile, games , PC and even TV platforms but that’s big corporate divisions for you. Haber continues to believe DRM is the key, "You need an orderly process to sell books and DRM makes that possible, mainly because it allows content creators and distributors to make money from that content." Again one will question whether they understand the market or are merely making sound bites to today’s publisher audience.

Amazon are a bookseller, sell on multiple platforms and love them or hate them they at least understand and live in the book market.

Sony view Google as a fellow Amazon basher and ally. Haber says that Google’s platform is "super open and it ties in very well to the reader experience we’re looking for." However does Google have the same empathy and love of Sony and is it a marriage built on respect and long life, or is it just an affair of convenience? Haber says that, "As long as they stay an open platform, we’re happy to work with them. If that ever changes, we’ll have to make a different decision." So how will he feel once they have their own phone, netbook and maybe reader?

We however would agree with Haber when he suggests that publishers could promote piracy by delaying the release of books in digital formats and that their businesses will prosper if they embrace ebooks. But there again ebooks sell tin and he needs to sell tin.

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