image In reporting on e-books, the press so often fixates on E Ink machines, maybe because they’re popping up in more and more in luxury hotel lobbies and in the upscale lounges of airports. But many value-minded people will be trying out e-books for the first time on netbooks, which can be used for email and the Web—in short, for much more than book reading. Just how low could prices go?

Would you believe, Hewlett Packard  has given Flextronics an order for two million netbooks for next year, according to reports in a Chinese-language paper picked up by Digitimes. The “manufacturing quote”—not the price you’d pay from a store—is $45 compared to the usual $70+. When all’s said and done, could we be looking at some popular new netbooks going well below $200 by the end of 2010, even without phone subscription plans?

As quickly as e-books are growing, netbooks aren’t exactly laggards. Year-to-year sales of netbooks grew 264 percent in the second quarter of 2009, according to a DisplaySearch report cited in eWeek. Who knows what the sales will be next year? But now screen technology such as Pixel Qi—which comes with e-book-reading modes—can only help.

Now the logical question: Should publishers think about bundling e-books with netbooks through special arrangements with HP and other vendors—just as Sony has worked out deals with Hachette to offer titles for e-readers? Perhaps, too, public domain projects such as Gutenberg could get in on the act, with free books showing up on the netbooks’ hard drives.

Image credit: CC-licensed photo from Axel Buhrmann.

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