asus-ereader Our sister blog Gadgetell reports on a Digitimes story that Asus is planning to release an 8” 64-greyscale e-paper reader at “under $599”. (E-Reader Info and Engadget also have coverage.)

When I saw this story, I had to glance at my new wristwatch, which helpfully provides a display for the year as well as month and day, to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally slipped one or two years back in time. (The watch synchronizes by radio with the atomic clock in Fort Collins, Colorado, so I can know for certain that it’s still 2010—the atoms say so!) It’s been at least that long since anyone seriously tried to list an e-reader of that size at that price range.

The 9.7” Kindle DX is $379. The 9.7” color iPad starts at $499. That kind of overpricing is what has presumably killed the Plastic Logic Que, which was supposed to cost $649 for a slightly larger e-paper screen. Meanwhile, the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony are priced between $100 and $300 depending on model, and mostly between $100 and $200, for 5” or 6” screens. And as the Digitimes story points out, Asus doesn’t have any content distribution deals in place the way Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Border, and Apple have.

Of course, the article only said that the e-reader would be “under $599”. It didn’t say how far “under” it would be. In most commercial cases, “under $599” generally means “exactly $598.99”, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. After all, you could also truthfully say that the iPad costs “under $19,999”, because it certainly does (unless, of course, it’s this one).

Is Asus trying to pull a “Scotty,” perhaps? (“Aye, captain, I said it would cost $599, but I tried really hard and managed to bring it in for $249.” “You’re a miracle-worker, Scotty.”) Or do like Apple did by “leaking” an $800-$1000 price range for the iPad and then bringing it in at $499 to $829?

If so, they’re being a little clumsy about it. If you’re going to set the expectation with a high price, you should at least make it a realistic one. For $599, I could get two fully-loaded, relatively recent Asus Eee netbooks, which might not be quite as good at e-reading as a dedicated e-ink reader but would certainly do a lot of other things better.

On the other hand, the article does mention they’re looking at offering “bundle sales” through mobile telecom carriers. Perhaps they’re thinking of offering it at a reduced price with a contract? The iPhone does cost $799 without a contract, after all. Even so, it’s hard to imagine any consumer wanting to tie himself to a contract for an unknown e-book reader when he could get a more popular one with no contract (and indeed free 3G connectivity) for the same amount.


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