Dedicated E-Book Readers: Their Days Are Numbered

Last Updated Jul 9, 2010 4:00 PM EDT

Not long ago, competition among e-book readers was low to nonexistent and vendors -- particularly Amazon -- could round up customers faster than a border collie can gather sheep. No longer. Current promotions and pricing strategies show that the Apple (AAPL) iPad has put pressure on devices and strategies of Amazon (AMZN), Barnes & Noble (BKS), Sony (SNE), and Borders (BGP), who are slipping into a duke-it-out reactive approach to their marketing.

The problem facing the e-reader device category is the old balance between being a specialist and a jack-of-all-trades. People I know who have used a Kindle or other such device often like the combination of ease on the eyes, battery life, and light weight. It's a specialty machine. The iPad is different: somewhat heavier, bigger, display not optimized for extensive print reading, and more expensive. But the iPad can run a browser and apps, play music, display video, and other functions not widely or easily available on most e-book readers.

Apple's impressive run at selling iPads have put the e-book readers into a funk. Consumers are unlikely to purchase both, especially as they expect an iPad to display books, and why buy an additional device? So the e-book reader vendors have begun to try significant promotions to either get people to buy one of their devices or convince them to download free software and books onto someone else's device.

  • Borders will give away free e-books from today through Wednesday. The titles are limited but free. Consumers just need to download the company's software.
  • Barnes & Noble has decided to boost interest with a free small coffee for people who go into one of their stores and show an e-book on the company's reader software.
  • Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon dropped prices on their reader hardware.
They all want to lock people into their content platforms before Apple manages to snag much of the e-book reading market into its own control. But it's too late. I'm not suggesting that people won't buy reader devices just because the iPad is on the market, but a great many won't. Why should they? Apple has already locked all those consumers into its ecosystem, which is open to third party content providers, but closed to third-party sellers. Given the rapid expansion of Apple tablets, and remembering that other vendors will come out with their own, the e-book reader market may be largely over before it really got started.

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Image: Flickr user timparkinson, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.