sony's reader does not seem to sell terribly well. first it was available for $349. then the price went down to $299. then buyers received $50 worth of ebooks with a reader. and today the new york times has a full-page ad offering $149 worth of ebooks with every reader. it certainly is not as successful as apple's istuff, which seems to require no advertising at all and still generates tons of money.
one of the problems probably is that the reader is a terribly closed device. you can read ebooks purchased in sony's ebook store (which come in sony's proprietary DRM-crippled Broadband eBook (BBeB) format), and that's about it. in theory, you can also look at PDFs (but the screen is too small for standard-sized PDFs, and PDF rendering is pretty slow for non-trivial PDFs), pictures (but the quality is less than optimal because the screen has just 4 grayscales), and listen to your mp3 tracks (but that's probably not relevant for most potential buyers). my guess is that sony's decision to make the reader as closed as possible will add one more device to the list of sony's failures. which is a shame, because the reader is a beautiful and nicely designed piece of hardware, but given the software restrictions, it is hard to imagine how it will really take off.
sony might add the adobe ebook reader to the reader device, but that just adds another closed world and probably will not make the overall impression very different. sony's business model apparently is centered around the assumption that a pretty cheap reader device will generate enough ebook sales to make sense. i'd like to see the actual figures, but my guess is that this will not work out.
a less restricted device would probably be the smarter approach. imagine an electronic ink device that not only displays DRM-crippled ebooks, but also serves as a general platform for displaying content from PDF to HTML pages, including personalized html news pages assembled through configurable newsfeeds. i'd certainly pay much more than $300 for this, if i could just use it in ways which i find useful, not just the single way sony thinks should be possible.
the irex iliad could be this open alternative, but it has way too much of a prototype feel to it to appeal to the mass market. and the business model of irex is a complete mystery to me. there is quite a bit of interesting stuff on the iliad, including wifi and a touch screen. but apparently the wifi is only used for a phone home feature for software updates and for connecting to some central source for content distribution. amazing. how can you build a wifi-enabled device these days and not leverage the power of the web? i still haven't got around to play a bit more with my iliad, but it seems to me that this could be a really nice platform for experimenting with new ways of information aggregation and publishing, but also a pretty long way from delivering a polished end-user experience so that users actually like the device.