The ebook has landed

<p>The decision by Waterstone's to stock Sony's ebook reader, available in more than 200 stores from September, is a bold one. No regional testing or soft launch: bang, straight in with a full-scale national launch backed by one of the strongest blue-chip brands in the world.</p>
<p>Borders, of course, has been selling the rival Iliad since the weekend before the BA conference in May. But at a price of &pound;400, with a weaker manufacturer brand and only in a handful of stores, the Borders launch has been a toe in the water compared to Waterstone's headlong plunge off a diving board.</p>
<p>But the competitor Waterstone's really cares about is Amazon. Its Kindle is already on sale in the US, and it is only a matter of time, perhaps a few short months, before it comes here. It differs from the Sony product in two key ways: it is wi-fi enabled, meaning readers can buy and download books direct from the internet remotely, and it is proprietary, ie readers can only buy books from Amazon. The first property is clearly a strength against the dumb terminal-locked qualities of the e-reader, which has to be plugged in to a PC to download books, and given Amazon's vast range the second is not necessarily a weakness.</p>
<p>The fear for Waterstone's and Borders is that a successful Kindle would suck the oxygen right out of the market, and they would be effectively left trying to sell MP3 players against an iPod.</p>
<p>But that battle is still to come and in the immediate future the Sony product will stand or fall on its own merits. At &pound;200 it's expensive for a book, but cheap for a sexy, top-end bit of electronic kit. There seems to be no shortage of kit-obsessed early-adopters ready to lash out on electronic toys in other markets, but whether enough of them are Waterstone's customers or heavy book buyers is an open question.</p>
<p>At a functional level the Sony is easy to read, smaller than a hardback and comparatively light&nbsp; - 260g - to carry around.&nbsp; Battery life is decent, enough to read <i>War &amp; Peace</i> five times apparently, while it can store up to 160 books. Thousands more are available from Waterstone's site&nbsp; - or those of publishers -&nbsp; but Waterstone's is confident it will be the readers' portal of choice.</p>
<p>Electronic reading devices are here to stay. They will get better and add in phones, music and cameras in time. The challenge for publishers and retailers is to make a decent margin on the devices and on the books.</p>