UPDATE – July 13, 2010 - Well, it’s happened already. Sony just broke the $100 e-reader barrier. Looks like there will be e-readers for everyone this holiday season! – R.S.
May 1st was a big day for the e-reader market. That’s when the Kobo, at $149, became the cheapest and most stripped down e-reader you could buy. Soon after, Borders started selling a competitive but cheaper reader, the Aluratek Libre for only $119.99. Now Barnes & Noble has a version of the Nook at $149, and Amazon Kindle promptly slashed its price to $189. Sony, not to be left out of the fun, has also dropped their prices. What’s really going on here? Is it simply competitive pricing, or something more?
Let’s look to the printer and toner pricing structure for a possible answer. Each day, printers are sold with more features, and at lower prices. The catch is the toner: It continues to be ridiculously expensive. I break out in hives when I have to buy toner cartridges for my colour printer. I even purchased a new printer once because it was cheaper than buying the toner! Don’t worry, I found the old one a new home at a recycling charity. Seems e-books are the new toner, and e-readers the new printers.
The first e-readers were expensive ($359 for the first Kindle), and e-books were cheap (typically about $9.99 per book). The publishers didn’t like it, but they had to live within a model where the retailer set the price. When Apple’s iPad launched this spring they forced a change that swept the industry, and now retailers have less discount wiggle room. Not surprisingly, e-books prices have shot up to the $12 range today.
The only lever left to support the rapid rise of digital book sales (and save the publishing industry) is for e-reader prices to continue to drop. Cheaper means much more accessible, and the number of people who own an e-reader will explode. Back to my printer and toner analogy, almost anyone can buy a colour printer these days, but the toner is a whole other story. We need to keep an eye on e-book pricing, and take bets on which e-readers will survive the price wars (the iRex has already filed for bankruptcy protection in the USA), and which ones will go down with last year’s colour printer models.
As Bette Davis/Margo Channing said in the movie, All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!”