CES – Day 2 – Dan Brown & Sony Reader at Sony Keynote

Thursday, January 5th – way too early in the morning to be up in Vegas. It’s the opening keynote of CES, featuring Sir Howard Stringer, chairman and CEO of Sony. Mostly it’s been a lot of flash and pitching of Sony products.

But among the highlights (in addition to an absolutely hilarious appearance by Tom Hanks) was the introduction of Dan Brown, celebrated author of The Da Vinci Code, whom Sir Howard brought in to discuss the new Sony Reader.

Dan Brown on Stage

The Sony Reader is an electronic device similar in size to an oversized paperback (but thinner), featuring electronic paper, a capacity to store nearly a hundred books internally, and hundreds more on Memory Stick or SD media. All pages are black and white, and the device can also be used to grab blogs, web pages, and images and store those in the Sony Reader (or on the portable media). The Sony Reader has a projected price in the $299 to $399 range, and is expected to ship at the end of March 2006. Sony plans on making thousands of books available via the Sony CONNECT service. The battery life on the Sony Reader is projected to allow for 7500 page changes (no power is used by electronic paper when being displayed, only during the transitions).

The Sony Reader

Dan Brown lauded the Sony Reader as a great tool for education, for travelers, and for researchers such as himself. He gave as an example his ability to use the Sony Reader to take hundreds of books of reference materials with him on a research trip, in a very small package, and then being able to download any additional books he might have still needed but forgot to “pack” (instead of trying to find a bookstore in some foreign country which carries the English language version of the book he wants). However, I should point out that the sorts of research books Dan Brown wants are unlikely to be available in an electronic format any time soon.

Brown also discussed the boon that a device like the Sony Reader would be a boon to education, as instead of having to carry bags of books, at a high per pupil cost, students could just carry an electronic book reader with all the content they need. That would certainly be nice, but I think pricing of e-book content will need to reflect the much reduced distribution and duplication cost – and presently, it’s not, if you look at electronic books available from Amazon (or digital music from the music download services in contrast to physical media contribution).

One area which I think will be a major new market for e-book content will be the publication of works by lesser known authors. We already see some of that now with blogs on the Internet, where anyone who wants to write can self publish. That’s one end of the spectrum, while authors like Dan Brown with huge marketing budgets behind them are at the other end of the spectrum. And in the middle are authors with real publishers, but small budgets. They will be the ones to truly benefit here.

Brown did say that he still feels that nothing will quite replace the feel of a book in his hands, being able to turn pages, and even the smell of a leather binding, reading in his den. But outside the den, or perhaps the home, readers like Sony Reader have the edge.

I agree, and I’m therefgore adding the Sony Reader to my gift wishlist.

But I wonder if the flight attendants will let me read from the Sony Reader during takeoff and landing. Will Sony lobby the TSA to get it listed as a non-electronic device, or will I only be able to read the current page, and not flip it to the next one during the “no electronic devices” flight segments?

UPDATED: 01/05/2006 – 19:41 AST