Sony has been heavily invested in e-readers and eBooks since 2007 and was one of the first companies actively developing products in this space. During the last few years Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo have all been out pricing Sony on eBooks and e-reader prices have fallen dramatically, due to cutthroat competition. This has resulted in Sony abandoning their Reader Store in North America, Europe and Australia and sourcing all digital sales to Kobo. Japan is the last country where the Reader Store is still going strong and Sony is doubling down, to focus all of their energies in being the top player.
In an exclusive statement to Good e-Reader, Vice President of Marketing for Sony Tony Smith said “We are increasing sales in Japan by concentrating our focus on offering a wide range of reading opportunities across various compatible devices, and on enhancing the store services and the selection of digital content. We aim to develop the Japanese business further by increasing the range of digital content working with publishers or partners, expanding the lineup of compatible devices, such as Xperia or PS Vita, cooperating with CRM platforms such as My Sony Club, and enhancing the accessibility of the store service such as offering extending it to PCs, and enriching IPhone/iPad experience.”
The digital gambit for Sony in Japan is not without massive resistance by some very important sectors. Newspapers still remain immune to going digital, although they enjoy a more loyal subscriber base than those in North America do. Professor Hayashi Kaori of the University of Tokyo said that “Newspaper circulation figures remain remarkably high in Japan. Among the major national papers, the Yomiuri Shimbun — Japan’s largest — puts its circulation at slightly less than 10 million. The number two, Asahi Shimbun, has an official circulation just shy of 8 million. Japan’s regional newspapers typically reach 50 percent of households in their market, and a fair number boast a penetration rate of 60 percent or higher.” Many of these nws companies employ elderly people to distribute the papers to stores and customers. It is thought that if digital is given a priority that they would have to lay some of these people off, and this is something they are not willing to do.
Sony does not have the best track record when it comes to developing new mobile reading platforms and executing them. In 2012 they were actively developing a Storyteller app for the Playstation Vita, which never saw a commercial release. Nintendo also beat them to the punch with launching a kids bookstore on the DS.
Exclusively focusing all of their energies on a singular market, with one major language does have obvious benefits. Sony was born in Japan, and that puts them in a better position to leverage their overall brand to duke it out with Amazon or Kobo. The chief concern is if Sony can execute any of their planned enhancements for their mobile apps or the PS Vita?
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.