The Sony Data Discman, called the Readman here, is a modification of the Sony Discman, their portable disc player. The Readman is 10 centimeters by 17 centimeters and weighs 1/2 kilogram--about the size of a paperback and the weight of a hardback--with a keypad and small pop-up liquid-crystal display. Users tap in queries on the keypad and information is displayed on the liquid-crystal display. It stores information on a compact disc holding roughly 200,000 pages of text . It also plays music compact discs.
Sony initially offered 17 titles, and by April 1991 offered over 30. They sold 200,000 titles in 5 months at a list price ranging from $25 to $155 a title. As with music discs, a title costs $2 to make and the cost drops with volume. Since there will be little or no retooling involved in switching a music disc factory to a book disc factory, there will be almost zero transition cost to produce the discs.
From its introduction in July 1990 to February 1991, Sony sold 100,000 Readmen in Japan at a list price of $450. Sony is making 20,000 Readmen a month, and introduced them in the U.S. on November 1st 1991. For its U.S. debut, Sony changed its name to the Electronic Book Player, upgraded its screen from 2 inches to 3 inches, bundled Compton's Multimedia Encyclopedia with it, improved screen backlighting, added graphics ability, increased the unit's price to $550, and decreased title prices to between $20 and $69.
To estimate how many Readmen may be sold in English-speaking countries, in 1990 alone Japan sold 3,188,600 camcorders in the U.S. at prices ranging from $800 to $3,000. Worldwide in 1990, Japan exported 7 million camcorders, 11 million compact disc players, and 26 million videocassette recorders. Once there are a few million English-speaking Readman-equivalent units in existence, Sony, or other suitably positioned companies, will have the reader base to begin taking over at least the reference part of the reading market (encyclopedias, dictionaries, and so on). It should start happening within 2 years.