More Thoughts About The Sony Reader

Joe Wikert’s post about Penn State’s Sony Reader experiment got me thinking about the Sony Reader again.

I’m a big fan of the Sony Reader, and I would love to see them succeed. But, I also feel that Sony has to gird for daily battle with Amazon. Jeff Bezos has proven over and over again that he’s willing to invest for the future regardless of Wall Street analysts trashing his decisions for long term success because of their impact on short term profit. (As an investor and someone passionately interested in business, that’s a Wall Street stance I’ve frankly never been able to understand. I guess I’m a value investor at heart. Give me long-term profit and invest for that profit any day over a short-term mindset – trash the company’s long term prospects to eek out good numbers for the quarter).

Back to the Sony Reader, I had an idea this morning about what could lead to a successful rival to Amazon’s Kindle. Drum roll please . . . Sony should seriously consider spinning off the Sony Reader (maintain the Sony brand and the Sony Reader’s stylish design) into a joint venture with Barnes & Noble.

Despite its many critics, I’ve often admired Barnes & Noble and the Riggios’ business acumen. Granted, as someone who loves bookstores of all kinds – locally owned independents, Barnes & Noble, Borders, the Strand, Powell’s, The Tattered Cover, etc. – it pains me to see any small independent bookstore go out of business. But, I also believe that Barnes and Noble has offered a wider selection of books ever available to many of the towns where they have stores. How can that be a bad thing for people passionate about books?

Again, back to the Sony-Barnes & Noble idea, I would guess that Len and Steve Riggio are watching the various Kindle sales estimates with heightened interest. Who knows? Maybe they’re writing off those Kindle owners as customers who would have purchased from Amazon anyway vs. buying a book at Barnes & Noble. So, they may reason that those Kindles really aren’t having much of an impact.

As a bibliophile, I would strongly disagree. I routinely buy buys via Amazon. But, I also love spending an hour or two browsing in Barnes & Noble at least once a week. If I don’t get my Barnes & Noble fix, my wife can tell. And, I routinely buy books at Barnes & Noble. Why? Because the physical bookstore browsing experience still hasn’t been replicated online, and I doubt it ever will.

Historically, Barnes & Noble has struggled with the rise of digital media and the online sales channel. Let’s be honest. If Amazon or any other sizable online bookstore didn’t exist, I’d wager many dollars that there would be no Just look back at the launch of, the financial spin-off of the website, etc. It wasn’t pretty. And, every step of the way, the Riggios were dragged kicking and screaming.

But, at the end of the day, they’re business people who want to compete and succeed. Do they really want to wake up in 2015 and have herds of customers wondering around Barnes & Noble stores armed with their Kindles, discovering new physical books, then downloading them on the fly. I don’t think so!

So, why not take a very calculated risk, cut a deal with Sony now and hit the floor running. Does Sir Howard Stringer really want to be dabbling in the ebook business anyway?

Think about it. Barnes & Noble could create a unique sticker that they slap on every book when it comes out of the box? Buy this book today or download it to your Barnes & Noble-Sony Reader device right now. And, if you really want to think about the possibilities, that sticker could have a readable bar code – or a numerical code or something – that would allow a customer to access and start downloading the ebook with one shot.

And, if you think the barcode idea is farfetched? Seriously bar code technology is hugely popular in Japan and other countries. How hard would it be to release a next generation Sony Reader with a quick inclusion of a bar code reader.

Do you think this will happen? If not, what is Barnes & Noble’s planning to do to combat the rising sales of Amazon Kindles? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.