E-reader market crowding with iPad, Kobo; many rivals expected to come out soon

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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The market for ebook readers is about to get a little more crowded and readers will likely be able to choose from a full range of options in the months ahead.
Apple's iPad is officially being released to stores in the U.S. today and is expected to challenge Amazon's Kindle as the dominant e-reader on the market. The iPad does a lot more than just read ebooks - it browses the web, plays music and video, and games and apps, to name just a few features - but it comes with a price tag to match. The most basic version starts at US$499 for a WiFi 16-gigabyte model while the most pricey model is $899. No Canadian release date has been set, but Apple's website says it's coming in "late April."
On the other end of the price spectrum is the Kobo eReader, which will be sold in Canada in May through Indigo Books & Music Inc. (TSX:IDG) for $149.
Feature-wise it's nothing like the iPad and more closely resembles the Kindle and Sony's line of Reader devices, with a few less features.
Kobo CEO Mike Serbinis said the company set out to make a budget-minded, no frills e-reader that would appeal to the large market of consumers who aren't willing to spends hundreds of dollars to read ebooks.
"We wanted (an e-reader) that was affordable, easy to use and stylized so the average book buyer who buys a book a month, that's not willing to put out $400 or $500 for an all-singing, all-dancing e-reader, could have something great," he said.
"We don't believe that segment of the market is going to pay $500 for that device, so coming out at $149 we thought was an ideal price point for a consumer who wants to try e-reading out."
There are few other e-readers currently on the Canadian market, including the little-known Aluratek Libre eBook Reader Pro for about $170 and the Astak Digital eBook Reader for $290. In the U.S., the Nook, released by book chain Barnes & Noble, is also a prominent contender.
Serbinis said the e-reader field may be relatively small now, but he anticipates dozens if not hundreds of competing products to hit the market in the months ahead, perhaps beginning by the summer.
"The time cycles in the e-reading space compared to anything else are super compressed right now, everybody is in a rush to get to market ... the explosion is happening, we're in that phase of the market," he said.
"(Companies) view ebooks and e-reading as a key pillar of content that they need to offer."
Serbinis said Kobo has considered structuring e-reader sales much like cellphone contracts, with offers of free or cheaper devices in exchange for a monthly ebook purchase requirement.
"I would say that right now subscriptions and subscription-based pricing is something that publishers are thinking about and really, they control the pricing regime when it comes to ebooks," he said.
"We'd love to do it, we're thinking about it, the question is working with publishers and what's the right time to introduce it."

Organizations: Apple, Indigo Books & Music Inc., TSX Sony Barnes & Noble

Geographic location: U.S., Canada

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