Engadget recently posed the question "How would you change the Sony Reader?" To me the answer is obvious: cut the price in half. As I discovered with my Nokia N770, a low price tag can save a weak product. Of course, price isn't the only problem with the Sony Reader...
Before buying the N770, I read Arstechnica's excellent review in which the author was clearly dissappointed with the product. After using the N770 for a couple weeks now, I totally agree with all the authors complaints, but I think I'm overall much more satisfied with the N770 than the author. I think part of the reason for this is that I paid less than half what it sold for when it was reviewed in 2005. For me the low price excused the N770's shortcomings. Something else happened after I got my N770, I quickly became willing to buy another internet communicator device a some point in the future. My point is that a low price tag can alleviate the weaknesses of a product (like the low refresh rate of the screen) and at the same time dramatically expand the potential market for a product, especially for a new product category, like in the case of the N770 or the Sony Reader.
But as much as price is an issue, I think a bigger issue is that the killer app for e-readers has yet to emerge. For the iPod, the killer app is music, but for e-readers a killer app has yet to emerge. Everyone expected the killer app for e-readers to be newspapers but that has yet to materialize. Also, it doesn't help matters that there is no clear content provider leader out there. It seems that the Sony Connect Book Store has received a collective "meh..." all around. A content leader with deep pockets for marketing could really raise awareness for eBooks and boost sales of e-readers.
Of course the other big problem for the Sony Reader, and all e-readers, is competition from other product segments. The Sony Reader currently retails for between $250-$300 (and that's after a recent $50 price drop). But the Asus EEE PC is going to cost about the same and it's full fledged notebook computer. Also, the iPhone has a PDF reader and it also does a whole heck of a lot more than the Sony Reader.