Can Logic defeat the Kindle?

by | Jul 22, 2009 09:37 AM ET

On Monday, Barnes and Noble announced a partnership with Plastic Logic Inc. that will bring the companies into direct competition with the Amazon Kindle eBook reader. According to New Mexico Business Weekly, the Logic eReader measures 8.5 x 11 inches and has wireless capability. It also uses an electronic ink display, just like the Kindle. Electronic ink displays help conserve power -- the device only has to draw upon the battery whenever you turn the page.

Today, AP writer Peter Svensson reports that AT&T will support the wireless function of the device, much like Sprint provides the wireless support for the Kindle. Now that the wireless piece is in place, we have ourselves a real ebook reader battle!

Of course, Sony has had an ebook reader called the Reader Digital on the market for a while now. Some people prefer the Sony device's form factor over the somewhat awkwardly-shaped Kindle. But Sony's eBook reader lacks one of the Kindle's major selling points -- wireless capability.

Barnes and Noble's strategy has one major advantage over Amazon's approach. Currently, you can only read a Kindle electronic book on a Kindle device or on an iPhone running the Kindle app. There's no support for other devices -- you can't even view the ebook on a computer. But Barnes and Noble lets you view their electronic books on devices like iPhones, BlackBerry smartphones, PCs and Macs.

You might wonder why you'd need the Logic eReader at all if you can access Barnes and Noble's content on other devices. Plastic Logic is very candid about their approach. Svensson reports that Plastic Logic intends to market the device to business professionals, not the general consumer market. Plastic Logic designed the eReader to display business reports and documents. The company recognizes that for the purposes of reading a novel, the customer can use his or her own computer or smartphone.

There's no word yet on pricing for the Logic eReader itself or for the AT&T service. But if you aren't interested in the reader, you can ignore all that and head straight to the Barnes and Noble Web site. The company is offering the eBook reader software for free. It's available for the BlackBerry, iPhone, PC and Mac operating systems. I hope someone develops an Android application soon. The reader comes with a few free titles, and you can start buying other electronic books right now.

While I think Barnes and Noble is smart to give customers a choice when it comes to ebook reader devices, I think we still have a long way to go to convince the average book reader to switch over to the electronic format. I browsed Barnes and Noble's ebook catalog and saw that the prices for the books are comparable to -- and sometimes more expensive than -- their physical counterparts. For example, an ebook copy of Stephen King's "The Stand" (the uncut version) will cost you $40 at Barnes and Noble's online store. At the Amazon Kindle store, you can purchase the book for $8.09. that's a pretty big price gap -- I'm not sure convenience will trump thrift.

When you consider that ebooks don't share the same massive costs as physical publishing, it's hard to justify paying $40 for an ebook. After all, it's really just a collection of zeros and ones, right? And there's no danger in producing too many copies -- you aren't going to end up with a warehouse filled with unsold digital books.

What do you think? Will the partnership of Barnes and Noble, Plastic Logic and AT&T force Amazon to reevaluate its strategy? Or will the Kindle reign supreme?

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