I was in Best Buy the other day. One side of the store's front end is entirely taken over by ebook readers. Sony, Kindle, Nook, and a couple of smaller name models. Bunch of gadgets for them, too. We've got reports of retailers from Walmart to Target to Staples doing similar things - big displays, lots of store space being used to make ereaders centrally visible to buyers this holiday. The ereader is being set up to be "the thing" this December. The net is filling up with "leaked" Black Friday ads: Best Buy planning to sell Nooks for $99, Walmart selling the Sony ereader for $99. Amazon is playing their game tight at the moment, but they're usually extremely competitive when it comes to price wars, so it's expected they will match the $99 pricetag either on Black Friday or perhaps waiting until Cyber Monday. There some question how long these sales will go on - they might be very short. There's indications that the Best Buy sale might only be for ten units per store, for instance. Get in early.
But will the sales get extended? Or is this a one-day flash that won't really have much impact on the holiday season?
That's a huge question.
The $99 price point is inside a powerful psychological barrier. Things that cost $100 or more make people stop and think much harder, much more carefully, than they might otherwise. Dropping the price on BlueRay players to $99 this past year has resulted in a surge of sales, despite DVD players coming in under $50. People have seen the writing on the wall about BlueRay for a while now (the war is over, DVD is a walking dead format), but many have held off buying. With prices so low, this will be the holiday shopping season that BlueRay makes fatal inroads into the home movie market.
Likewise, folks have been saying for a while now that when ereaders reach that $99 mark, sales would rocket up. It just puts the devices into a category that more people think of as affordable for a fun gadget.
If either of the major readers (sorry, Sony, you'll become major when you start letting people read Amazon or B&N books on your reader) holds the price point at $99, the other will almost be forced to follow along. And having Nook and Kindle at $99 through December will sell millions of units. Lots of millions, with them sitting in thousands of major retail stores.
This is one of those moments that is exciting and interesting to watch. The next month - and the decisions about price point for these readers - will have a huge impact on Q1 and Q2 sales of ebooks next year. Later in the year, I think we'll see ebook sales further boosted by the host of new android based tablets coming into the market (some of which will probably be sold subsidized by wireless internet providers, like cell phones are right now). But the rate of ebook market share growth in the first half of the year will be determined in the next month. Will it continue growing at a stately but solid rate? Or will we see an explosion in ebook sales due to unexpected numbers of ereaders sold this holiday?
Grab some popcorn. This should be fun to watch.