In a venture designed to bring giant mobile phone carriers more directly into the book market, German e-book retailer Txtr has unveiled plans at the Frankfurt Book Fair to release a new e-ink digital reading device that can be offered as an inexpensive premium through phone plans. The new device, called the Beagle, is a small, battery-powered e-reader with a 5” e-ink screen that would cost less than $19 when offered via a mobile data plan.
Calling it “easy to use and the cutest e-book reader in the world”, Txtr chief commercial officer Thomas Leliveld said the Beagle would be one of the smallest and lightest (128 grams) e-readers in the market. Leliveld claimed the device could run on two AAA batteries for “up to two years, there are no cables or charger”, joking that it was, “No wi-fi or 4G - it’s a no-G device,” designed strictly for reading. But it is designed to work in conjunction with a cell phone, and once it’s synced to a consumer’s phone with access to e-books, he or she can wirelessly move up to five e-books from their phone to the Beagle for reading. Once five titles are loaded on the Beagle, one will need to be deleted before adding another, although all titles still exist on the phone. The limit on the number of titles that can be placed on the Beagle and the device’s lack of any transmitting capability is not arbitrary - Leliveld acknowledged that this was intended to prevent illegal content sharing.
The Beagle looks to be able to support the display of any e-book no matter where it is purchased. It will launch with Android phones, and support for Apple iOS devices will be next. Support for BlackBerry devices is not planned, Leliveld said, "But I see Windows 8 phones as the third platform."
While the new e-ink device is an interesting piece of hardware, Txtr’s business model is even more so. Leliveld said the targets of the venture were the giant global phone carriers like Sprint and AT&T, and the plan was to have them subsidize the device and offer digital reading as a cool value-add for phone consumers. Beagle offered them “a high return on investment.” “We’re after the 80% of of the cell phone market that aren’t digital readers,” he added.
Leliveld said talks with the carriers continue (“they don’t do things fast”) and he expects to have the device in the market before Christmas, “but not in all markets.” In fact he said his first shipment would probably be for more than 100,000 devices—“carriers don’t order 2,000 copies of anything,” he said—and that it was likely that a family buying a new phone plan would likely add a digital reader to the mix—especially if the cost of the device could be as little as 10 euros. And while Leliveld said their focus was on the mobile carriers, he said the company would be open to offering the device for direct sale “if we can find a market of about 10,000 to 20,000 consumers to buy it, then we would try to satisfy that demand.”