Sony's charging how much for an e-reader?

With an outrageous price tag for 'Digital Paper,' the company botches another promising product.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 15, 2014 3:50PM
Credit: Courtesy of Sony

Caption: Sony’s Digital PaperBy Brett Arends, MarketWatch

Sony Corp. (SNE) has done it again!

Once again, the Japanese electronics giant has come up with a terrific piece of new technology -- a breakthrough product that lots of people might want.

And then it has done its level best to strangle the product in its infancy.

A short while ago I sat down in Boston with Giovanni Mancini, director of product development at E Ink, and got an early peek at Sony’s new "Digital Paper" product (pictured). This is basically the closest anyone has yet come to a digital piece of paper.

It uses E Ink's new "Mobius" display and proprietary Sony technology. It is the size of a letter-sized piece of paper -- which makes its screen more than four times the size of a regular e-reader.

It's excellent. The screen is bright and clear and the page turns are fast. The product is light, about 13 ounces. The battery lasts for a month. It has a touch screen so you can mark up documents and so on.

This could be the future of reading. This could be the future of newspapers and magazines. (It's so much better than trying to read the news on a tiny 6-inch screen, or, indeed, on a tablet). This could be the future of documents.

I know that 90 percent of the population no longer reads anything longer than 140 characters, and that those of us who still read, when we could be playing Angry Birds or watching that interminable shaggy dragon story "Game of Thrones," are just a bunch of Luddite weirdos (David Carr at the New York Times admits he is basically abandoning reading for watching TV.)

But some of us are still out there. And this is just what we were looking for.

The only problem? Sony just launched the Digital Paper in the U.S. with a sale price of $1,100.

Um . . . what?

Yes, the product is good. But I can get an iPad for $400. I can get a Kindle DX -- with 3G, and access to’s news and book stores -- for $199. I would prefer to have a Digital Paper. But no, it isn't worth five times as much.

Does Sony have a death wish?

This company was once ahead of the curve in smartphones. It had the first e-readers in the U.S. market, before Amazon's Kindle. It was ahead of pretty much everybody in laptops, tablets, ultra-portable computers, even handheld organizers. Sony could have owned it all.

And where are they now? They actually just closed their U.S. e-bookstore in ignominy, and have stopped selling regular e-readers here at all.

If you had invested $1,000 in Apple (AAPL) stock at the start of this millennium, today you'd have $21,000.

If you had invested that money instead in the Nasdaq Composite Index ($COMPX), you'd have $1,100. Even if you'd invested in the Nikkei 225 you'd still have nearly $800 left.

But if you'd invested it instead in Sony Corp.? Today you'd have $160.

I asked Sony why this product was priced in the stratosphere. "Digital Paper is not designed for consumer use," a spokesman replied. Instead it is aimed at businesses and professionals.

Okay. But in what world are companies still tossing around $1,100 per product? Salesmen, doctors doing their rounds, college professors -- these people can buy tablets for a few hundred dollars.

If Sony executives believe the average business is just overloaded with fat departmental budgets these days, they must be hanging out in a new virtual-reality simulator in the company's basement. Out here on planet Earth we haven't seen those types of budgets in about 15 years.

The only companies I can think of that have that kind of money to burn are, well, Apple, Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG).

Yes, the Digital Paper can replace actual paper. It's lighter and more convenient. But it's still not quite as readable or markable. And let's do the math.

Last weekend I printed out papers I need to read for a book I'm writing ("Seven Ways To Beat Wall Street," since you ask). I ran through more than a ream of paper and I finished a toner cartridge.

A ream of paper costs about $6. A toner cartridge for my laser printer costs $45. I'd have to run through 24 cartridges before I equaled the up-front cost of one Digital Paper product.

How long would that take me? What would have happened to Digital Paper prices in that time?

Sony will not have this market to itself for long. Giovanni Mancini, director of product development at E Ink, says rivals have been contacting his firm about bringing out competing products. "There’s a revival of interest" in large-screen readers, he says. Since Sony first unveiled the prototypes of Digital Paper last fall, he said, "we've had people calling us up and saying, 'We'd like to make that kind of product.'"

And there is so a market for these things.

Amazon tried icing the Kindle DX nearly two years ago -- and ended up bringing it back because there was still demand, even though the company hasn't provided any decent support, including software updates, for years. (I asked Amazon why they weren't bothering to provide ongoing support for loyal customers who had bought a DX. They didn't bother to reply).

Last year Canada's Kobo launched an e-reader, the Aura HD, with a screen about a third bigger than that of the Kindle. Kobo said it was a limited-edition model -- but it sold out.

To put it simply, if you want to read documents you need a large-screen e-reader. Ditto newspapers. I don't want a tablet, and a standard Kindle, with a 6-inch screen, won't do. If I can't get a device with a screen of 10 inches or bigger I'll just use paper. Kobo's Aura was a step in the right direction, but it's still too small for documents. However, 10 inches is plenty.

Someone who makes a product with a 10-inch Mobius screen and a reasonable price is going to get my undying loyalty. Apparently it won't be Sony.

My guess? This will be another Sony, er, marketing "triumph."

More from MarketWatch

Apr 15, 2014 9:54PM
At the beach, the pool, do I want to leave that $1100 Sony with my towel, the $400 iPad, the $199 Kindle or a $0.50 used paperback book behind while I enjoy a swim?
Apr 15, 2014 6:16PM

Books are free.

I get them at the library.

Apr 15, 2014 6:30PM
Paperback/hardcover books - "Look Mom, no batteries"!!!
Apr 15, 2014 7:14PM
This technology is amazing.  And like other cutting edge technology, the initial price is expensive and prohibitive.  Wait a few years, and these gadgets will cost 70% less, and be 10 times better.  As far as just reading, I'll still take an old-fashioned book any day.  I can't imagine sitting on the beach, reading a book on a gadget.  I also can't imagine trying to fix a car or tractor and being covered in grease and reading a repair manual on an e-reader.
Apr 16, 2014 8:20AM
Rather have a book any day and libraries are free, also.
Apr 15, 2014 7:21PM
Like anything produced/stored on electronic devices, it is sure good to have a "hardcopy" backup.  They should complement each other, not compete.  One thing I have to say for hardcopy though, you don't need a particular ereader device to read them - just flip the pages!
Apr 16, 2014 12:47PM

"90% of the population no longer reads anything longer then 140 characters." LMFAO.

Glad I read more than the 140 in this article, otherwise I wouldn't have seen that....

We still have a Library, get periodicals and papers; And try and keep up with what's going on in the World....

Plus we read 30-50 pages everyday on a PC or Laptop.

"When you quit Reading, you have quit Learning.."

Apr 16, 2014 6:41AM
Books do not hurt my eyes.  I can only spend an hour on this computer.  I don't have to be tech savvy to turn a page, and they're free at libraries.
Apr 16, 2014 9:34AM
I don't understand why they would rip their customers like this, no way it is worth the starting price... I will never buy an anything so ridiculously overpriced. 
Apr 15, 2014 11:15PM
Books, newspapers, writing tablets.
Apr 19, 2014 8:05AM
Going to a library is the best. You actually meet other people maybe a old friend, catch up in life like normal people; instead of being self absorbed in electronic gizmoes and not even be aware of your enviroment around you. 
Apr 16, 2014 10:10AM

This would be less for use as an E-reader and more for corporate use. 


Unless, of course, you are OCD and have an incessant need to edit the books you read, you do not need the markup function to read 50 Shades of Grey.

Apr 15, 2014 11:56PM
So why doesn't the author just get a Windows 8 device like my Asus T100 10" tablet w/ detachable keyboard for $379 and add Amazon's Kindle Reader app or Microsoft Windows Reader app?
Apr 16, 2014 11:51AM
Someone should tell Sony what lube is for. When your going to screw someone over it is polite to oil up first to reduce friction.
Apr 16, 2014 11:51AM
Sony realizes that they have something so advanced and innovative that, assuming the have all the patents, they don't have to make money of actual sales. 
In a few years they will make a fortune off of licensing fees. 

But yes, Sony has always had a sense of entitlement with their pricing. 
Apr 16, 2014 10:06AM

Maybe they just can't produce many of them yet, so what way to limit the sales than to make them unsellabe because of price.



Apr 19, 2014 11:02AM

Amazon charges more for an e-book than a paper book.


I will stick with paper books.

Apr 19, 2014 1:16PM
Sony is full of bologna!  This is like saying that the only good cellphone is an iphone, and you should be willing to pay whatever they ask.  Well, I don't use an "iphone" and my cellphone works just fine at the fraction of the price of an iphone.  I think there are other e-readers that work just as good or better than Sony.  But, you know, there are those who think thay got to have it!
Apr 16, 2014 9:43AM
I've had 2 Sony ereaders, the first was knocked over by a child and I was told it would cost $500 to fix (a $250 product).  The second became ridiculously slow to turn the page after only a year.  Instead of putting more money into those things I read on my iphone, and found I actually like that better.
Apr 19, 2014 2:06PM
Unfortunately Sony is banking on regular paper to go the same way that cassettes wen when the CD was invented. Remember back then? When CDs came out the story was the same, "Who's gonna pay x for a cd player and x for a music cd".

Now the CD is being phased out in favor of streaming or downloadable music, in the same manner the news paper and books are being obsoleted whether we like it or not. Their reasoning is that If no one prints stuff in paper and all content becomes digital, then this will be come the defacto standard much like CD replaced Casettes and Cassettes replaced 8Track.

So who's going to pay X for a E-Paper reader and x for content? You all are in the end.

Some how somewhere some one has already figured out how to force the paper industry to stop producing paper.

Sony has the leg up on everyone by introducing this E-Reader/Digital Paper tablet. And what will inevitably happen is that their 1100 dollar tablet probably costs them 25.00 to make so they will slash the price at some point much like apple did with the iPads and iPhones.

So you will be hitting your head against the wall after you buy it for X because its now at a lower price a few weeks after your purchase.
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