Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sony opens eBook Reader to other booksellers

With the market for electronic books still small, Sony will try to expand the business by cutting the cord that ties its latest eBook Reader to its own online bookstore.

Starting today Sony will provide a software update to the Reader so the device can display books encoded in a format being adopted by several large publishers. That means eBook owners will be able to download books from stores other than Sony's.

With the move, Sony is partly letting go of its e-book business model, under which it sold the $300 device and the books that could be read on it. It's also a challenge to, which last year put out its own e-book reader, the Kindle, and tied it to its own online store. Amazon, however, makes it relatively easy for publishers and individuals to submit books to sell through the store, with Amazon taking 65 percent of the sale price.

Opening up the Sony Reader could also help Sony catch up to the $359 Kindle in terms of book selection. Sony's store, which it will keep running, has about 45,000 books available, while Amazon's Kindle store has more than 140,000.

Sony's move could also help energize the e-book industry, which has yet to take off, despite the investment of big-name companies like Sony and Amazon. Neither has released sales figures for their reading devices.

International Digital Publishing Forum, the main e-book publishing trade group, said e-book sales by a dozen major US publishers was $31.8 million last year, on the wholesale level.

The publishing forum backs the format, called Epub, that the latest Sony eBook Reader model will be able to handle after the upgrade. Publishers supporting Epub include Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group, HarperMedia, Hachette Book Group, HarperMedia and Harlequin.

Users of the Sony Reader have already been able to load books as text files or in the Portable Document Format, or PDF. But Epub is the first outside format for which the supplier can copy-protect a book, to prevent piracy. (info from The Associated Press)

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