Low-priced e-reader market picks up speed

Since Amazon and Barnes & Noble recently announced lower-priced versions of their e-readers, several companies have scurried to get ahead of the low-cost trend by dropping prices or creating cheaper models. Many top-notch e-readers are now available for $150 or less, with some $100 models expected out by year's end.

In June, Barnes & Noble announced that it would offer a new version of its Nook e-reader at $149 and Amazon introduced a $139 version of its Kindle e-reader. Both new models are Wi-Fi enabled, with no 3G connectivity, and have a 6" e-ink screen.

Sony, in turn, dropped the price of its Reader Pocket Edition - its cheapest, most basic device - to $150. That model has no Internet connectivity and a 5" e-ink screen.

Augen's The Book e-reader model, released in late July and selling for $129, has been called a "Kindle clone" for its outward similarly to the Amazon device, although The Book sports an LCD screen that distinguishes it from many low-priced models. It is Wi-Fi enabled and has a 7" color screen.

Copia broke the $100 barrier with its Ocean model, announced in late July and due out in the fall. The $99 e-reader is Wi-Fi enabled, in color LCD, with a 5" screen.

Now forging ahead is the Borders-owned Kobo, whose $150 e-reader was already one of the least expensive models among the major brands. On August 18, Gregory Levey, blogging for The New Yorker, reported that the Kobo is set to drop to $99 by the end of the year. That device has a 6" monochrome e-ink screen and Wi-Fi.

John Biggs of CrunchGear predicts the low-priced trend will result in a slew of low-priced "no-name" e-readers whose lack of features will make them "woefully useless," adding, "I don’t think e-readers can survive the race to the bottom." Other analysts expect some models to easily rise to the top. Levey, for example, notes the "cult following" of the Kobo, dubbing it "The Kindle Killer" for its "simplicity and affordability."

The expected drop in price for the Kobo led publishing blog GalleyCat to ask, "Is $99 the new magic eReader price?," and many analysts agree that the under-$100 price point is likely to pick up speed before and beyond the 2010 holiday season.