New E-Readers Hit European Shelves
By Michael Stillman
The electronic reader knows no borders. The rapid rollout of Kindles and Nooks in America is being repeated with a group of locally produced electronic readers in Europe. On the Continent, like America, many are offered by local bookselling and electronics chains.
Thalia, the leading bookseller in Germany, recently began filling orders for its Oyo e-reader. The Oyo features a 6-inch screen, a 2GB memory good for around 1,000 books, and a wi-fi connection for downloading. It is compatible with numerous formats, meaning it does not use a proprietary operating system that can only accept books sold by Thalia. The Oyo employs a touchscreen for navigation. The price is €139 (around $200 in American dollars).
The Oyo is not limited to Germany. In France, DirectGroup Bertelsmann will be making it available through their online bookseller Chapitre.com. There the price will be slightly higher - €149. It will also be available through the locations of the buying club France Loisirs. The Oyo will be sold in the Netherlands by Selexyz, a local chain with bookstores in 15 cities. In Poland, bookseller Empic began selling the Oyo in late October, followed a few weeks later in selected stores.
In France, an alternative to the Oyo recently became available, the FnacBook. This strangely unattractive name can be traced to its retailer, FNAC. It stands for (in French) Federation of National Purchasing Managers, but just goes by the FNAC name today. The FnacBook is a bit more expensive, €199, but it features 3G service rather than just WiFi alone. A similar product is available in Italy, the Telecom Italia eBook. This reader is being sold, naturally, by Telecom Italia, Italy's largest telecommunications company.
All of these new e-readers look a lot alike, and with good reason. None of these companies is producing its own. Each of these makes is actually a branded version of the Binder, produced by Sagem. Sagem is a large French electronics maker. You don't actually buy a "Binder." It's what Sagem describes as a "white-labeled" device. They deliver it to others for re-branding. The prototype for the Binder was only first announced early this year and just began shipping in late October. As best we can tell, it is currently available in the two versions, one including 3G connectivity; one not.
Electronic readers appeared first in America with Amazon's proprietary Kindle. It was not only their own device, it accepted only books from their store. Barnes & Noble responded with the Nook, their own device, but one that could accept books from many sellers. Borders followed with the Kobo, a device both available from multiple retailers and accepting electronic books sold by multiple retailers. It looks as if Europe is skipping the proprietary e-readers, except that perhaps some otherwise identical readers will have a different brand name pasted to the front. And, the various iterations of the Binder are not the only electronic readers now available in Europe. Amazon is still far and away the leader, but their monopoly is rapidly disappearing. It will be interesting to see whether they can maintain their market dominance in a world where they no longer dominate by virtue of owning a monopoly.