Sony has been selling e-readers since 2006 and has been operating its own ebook store for a number of years. The company has expanded its reach within the last year, opening new stores in UK, Japan, Germany, Austria, Canada, and Australia, and it will be coming to France, Italy, and Spain. Every few weeks, Sony has been announcing new content partnerships and new enhancements to the store. Today, we spoke directly with Sony to get a sense of the company’s overall mentality when it comes to selling ebooks.
Sony is putting a priority on ebook discovery with the launch of infographs and Discovery Trees. Natascha Helbig, director of Reader Store for US/Canada, explained “Our team puts a lot of thought and work into these discovery tools and the response has been very positive. In an online ebook store you get often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of titles available so often customers tend to go for the author or series they know and like. We wanted to create a different and unique way of guiding customers to new reads by way of relating them to other books they might have read. Recommendation engines can only do so much; they don’t quite replace a real person knowing the books and how they might be relevant to customers.”
How exactly does Sony aid ebook discovery? “We are doing a variety of things to help our customers discover their next book and are planning to launch even more features this summer. We think some relevant titles can always be discovered via algorithm-based recommendation mechanisms in the store, but we focus on having our team put together tools in various genres to discover new books and authors, be it through our discover infographics, our Sony Reader Store blog, our curated collections and our staff picks,” Helbig explained.
In October 2012, Sony launched its online book club. Every month a new ebook is selected and special social media channels are developed to give readers a place to talk about the book. Often, Sony gets the author to engage the community in a Q/A. Natasha talked a bit about this and said, “We always look for new and exciting ways for our customers to discover new books and authors, and to learn more about the authors they love. The Sony Readers Book Club was a great experience which brought us closer together with our customers and allowed us to all participate in a reading experience together. We had hundreds of applications for the club and our online chats generated millions of impressions. The book club was a great way to discover new authors and titles and facilitate lively discussions amongst our customers and authors, and those are themes you will continue to see at Reader Store.”
The big priority with ebook sales used to be the dedicated line of e-readers, since that has been the big focus for the last seven years. Most of the core customers Sony has are switching to mobile and tablet devices to consume their media. This allows for more multimedia features, such as audio, video, and interactive elements. Recently, a new EPUB3 section has been introduced on the Sony Reader Store, to give people a dedicated portal to enhanced ebooks. “Sony has been very supportive of the industry standard ePub format so it was a logical step for us to be one of the first retailers to support ePub3, including embedded audio/video and read-along functions. We’ve been working very closely with our publishing partners to create the first ePub3 titles, which was a collaborative effort. We initially focused on children’s titles and sales have been very encouraging. Sony also just launched its newest tablet, the Xperia Tablet Z. Its new features make it the ideal family tablet and enhanced children’s ebooks were a great fit. That said, we will support ePub3 files in other categories as well and encourage publishers to experiment with the new format and push the boundaries of what ebooks can become. We’re excited to be part of this evolution.”
Given that Sony’s shifting strategy is tablets, how are sales on that platform, when compared to e-readers? Natascha said, “Most of our customers used to buy content through our desktop app Reader for PC, but with the launch of our web store last year, the majority of customers transitioned to that storefront. The web store is such an easy way for customers to buy books wherever they are and then they can download the titles on any of the devices they use. We have also seen a spike in purchases on the tablet and mobile storefronts, particularly in the last year, both on Sony Tablets as well as third-party tablets and phones.”
Speaking of sales, Sony tends to never publicly release metrics on overall sales and market reach. Natasha gave a bit of a perspective on what ebook genres do the best. She said, “Fiction is definitely the strongest category for us. Our most popular genres are Romance, Mystery & Thrillers, Fiction & Literature, SciFi & Fantasy, and Young Adult.”
Integrating other services into the PRS-T1 and T2 has been a priority with Sony. The Overdrive App has been wildly successful with many people discovering they can borrow digital books from their local libraries. How much of an emphasis will Sony continue to put on these extra services? “We wanted to enable customers to do with our Readers what they already are accustomed to as passionate readers – and renting books from libraries was an obvious choice. The feature is extremely popular. In our latest Reader, the PRS-T2, we also worked together with Evernote to enable customers to read other content like personal notebooks or web clippings on their Reader, allowing customers to take their Readers with them, lean back and have plenty of reading choices right at their fingertips. Digital reading has to go beyond reading of print books and take advantage of what the technology enables customers to do.”
Finally, Sony confirmed that it has no current plans for magazines and newspapers on its platform. It is something the company is looking at, but it has nothing in place right now to launch anything formally. Sony also doesn’t have any plans to launch a dedicated self-publishing platform and instead deals with 3rd party companies to produce content for them. Also, with the rise of short-fiction, Sony doesn’t have any plans to currently strike a deal with anyone to add more of these titles into the library. “The ebook business is very important for Sony in North America. We offer a variety of terrific entertainment devices and services for our customers and our eBook team is playing its part in that Sony family.” Natascha wrapped up the interview by saying, “We are determined to increase our market share by continuing to offer a unique discovery and reading experience for both Sony as well as third-party devices.”
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.