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Sony Fine Tunes Its E-Book Strategy

Sony Fine Tunes Its E-Book Strategy
By Mark Long

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Sony is moving to boost the appeal of its e-book offerings with marketing moves and price cuts. Along with less-expensive Readers, Sony has joined Amazon in offering free newer titles from popular authors, including James Patterson. An analyst said these are good moves, but Sony is new to book retailing and needs to do more.
 

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Sony is turning to a combination of tried-and-true and innovative marketing strategies to boost the appeal of the company's e-book offerings to price-conscious American consumers.

Earlier this week, Sony knocked $2 off the prices at its online e-book store for new releases and New York Times best sellers and unveiled two new e-book Readers at reduced price points of $199 and $299. What's more, the company has joined Amazon in offering a few newer titles free from popular authors such as Brenda Jackson, James Patterson, Joseph Finder, and Kim Stanley Robinson.

All these marketing moves bode well for sales of Sony's e-book devices and content, Forrester Research Analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said.

"I think the trend toward lower-priced devices will help to encourage adoptions, and it also helps that Sony's best sellers will now be priced at $9.99 -- down from $11.99," Rotman Epps said. "Even though there are many books priced lower than 9.99 in their online store, just being able to add this price point has psychological appeal."

Hands-On Experience

Having Sony's e-book Readers more widely available in retail stores also will enable consumers to discover the devices on their own, Rotman Epps noted.

"Sony's new e-book Readers will not just be sold through the company's direct channels, but also through Target, Wal-Mart and Costco stores and other retail outlets," Rotman Epps explained. "Enabling consumers to have real hands-on experience before they buy is a major plus and I imagine it won't be long before the Kindle is in these stores as well."

Though Sony is making progress, the company needs to do more to make it easier for consumers to find relevant e-book content at its online store, she said.

"A common criticism of Sony is that it makes great devices but doesn't know how to sell books," Rotman Epps said. "Though they have long been an electronic manufacturing giant, they really are new to the retail book business."

More Work Ahead

Sony recently added hundreds of thousands of public-domain titles to its online store courtesy of Google, and Rotman Epps considers this a potential marketing plus. "Giving consumers more choice of content -- including free content -- is good marketing, even if consumers end up just buying best sellers anyway," Rotman Epps said.

So far, however, Sony has done little to make the free content readily available to its customers beyond adding a link to a Web page that lists the better-known titles and a search box for finding lesser-known works, she noted.

"There is the problem of discovering the free Google-scanned books, but even with the newer titles that Sony is selling at retail, it is more difficult to discover them" than at other online e-book stores, Rotman Epps said. "However, Sony plans to focus more on merchandising in the coming year, so I think they will get better."

Sony also will need to do more if it wants to be a major player overseas, where Rotman Epps said the e-book phenomenon is also expanding. Samsung recently entered the e-book reader market through the launch of a new device. Though Samsung's initial product is squarely aimed at the company's home market of South Korea, the Seoul-based electronic giant's investment in product design clearly indicates that it has wider aspirations.

"Though the United States will continue to be the dominant market for some time to come, we are going to see tremendous growth of e-book reader adoption outside the U.S. in the next few years -- especially in China and India," Rotman Epps said.
 

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