A prototyped e-book reader. It has a logo of iriver Japan, but the brand to be used for the actual product has not been determined yet.
A prototyped e-book reader. It has a logo of iriver Japan, but the brand to be used for the actual product has not been determined yet.
[Click to enlarge image]
The size of the e-paper is 6 inches.
The size of the e-paper is 6 inches.
[Click to enlarge image]

iriver Japan Co Ltd will launch its electronic book (e-book) reader "Libre" in Japan within 2009 at the earliest.

The company will change its name to MouseComputer Co Ltd after it merges with a company in the same group July 1, 2009. Therefore, it has yet to be decided under what brand name the Libre will be released.

The e-book reader is manufactured by Prime View International Co Ltd (PVI) of Taiwan. iriver Japan combined it with Foxit Software Company's software, such as the one that browses online news articles and converts them into PDF files.

The display features black-and-white electronic paper based on E Ink Corp's technologies. Its screen size is six inches and pixel count is 800 x 600. The Libre is not capable of wireless communication, and data is transferred via a USB port or memory card. It will be sold only online.

"Because of our low pricing, the profit margin of the Libre is small," said Shigeyoshi Asano, president of iriver Japan. "So, it is very difficult to sell it through volume retailers."

The price has not been decided yet but is expected to be about ¥29,800 (approx US$312). We estimate that the company purchases the e-book reader from PVI for $150 to 200.

Getting head start over rivals

The e-book market is beginning to boom. Various kinds of e-book readers have already been released in the world, and they will eventually come to the Japanese market. Under those circumstances, iriver Japan finds meaning in launching its product ahead of other companies, Asano said. He considers that the market is large enough with only early adopters. The company expects unit sales of 1,000 per month.

In fact, iriver Japan secured a considerable portion of the portable music player market in Japan before leading companies entered the market. And, this time, the company seems to be aiming at the same result.

"Japanese major manufacturers are still evaluating whether e-book readers will really take off in Japan," Asano said. "That's why it is meaningful for us to enter the market."

Negotiating with newspaper companies

At first, iriver Japan will not provide contents for the Libre, expecting the device to be used for reading news articles collected by Foxit Software's crawling software, PDF files prepared by the user and so forth.

However, Asano said that iriver Japan is now in talks with newspaper companies and other content providers. Therefore, it is possible the e-book reader will deal with their contents in the future.