Sony (NYSE: SNE ) is making a concerted effort to push its new device, the Sony Reader, to more than just your typical early-adopter gadget geeks. The electronics giant plans to offer the Sony Reader at one of the best-known bricks-and-mortar bookstores, Borders (NYSE: BGP ) . It's a logical strategy to push the Sony Reader to a broader market of true booklovers.
Back in February, I reported on the Sony Reader, which is about the size of a paperback, can store hundreds of e-books, and allows 7,500 "page turns" at the push of a button on a single battery charge. In a feature that improves on a traditional book, users can adjust their e-books' font size on the Sony Reader device. It will cost $299 to $399 when it's widely available this summer.
The Borders agreement seems like a good move for Sony, giving the device exposure to true bibliophiles -- Sony Readers will be available in 200 Borders stores. (It will also be available in Sony Style stores, but that's a no-brainer.) In addition, Borders will have kiosks where consumers can play with the device and see how it works. That's important, considering that such a new technology will likely seem daunting to many avid readers accustomed to the traditional book experience.
The benefits to Sony are clear, but I'm not so sure about Borders' stake in the deal. After all, Borders isn't peddling digital wares to fill the devices itself: It will sell gift cards for Sony's Connect online store. As it stands now, Borders' bread and butter consists of the good old-fashioned physical books that fill its shelves, as well as all the accoutrements for bibliophiles. If more than a few avid readers decide that e-books are the way to go -- especially among its own loyal customers -- Borders may have some serious challenges to contend with down the road. That's one element that's got me curious.
At any rate, it's an interesting market for Sony to get into -- Sony may have missed the boat when Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPod revolutionized the way consumers listen to music, but apparently it is trying to get in on the ground floor of e-books, which are still in the nascent phase. In the past, I commented on the idea that Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) may be planning an "iPod killer," but I would have thought it interesting if Amazon created a device that not only stores and plays digital music, but also integrates e-books, given that books and music are a major part of its tradition. Plus, it has that Digital Locker all ready to store people's digital media of all types.
Although I do think this is an interesting area for Sony to approach, I remain basically bearish on the electronics giant overall. To my way of thinking, it has made an awful lot of missteps lately (Fool contributor Rich Smith thought it was OK that Sony's delaying PlayStation 3, but I think it's just another sign among many that Sony's prone to misfire these days). However, there is a lot to appreciate about getting in on the ground floor of an untapped market, so many of us will surely be watching to see how the Sony Reader fares.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.