Sony Turns the Page on E-Book Business Model

Sony announced Thursday that the new iteration of its Reader digital book will be able to read electronic books published in the .epub file format, a file type gaining acceptance among major trade book publishers, many of whom have committed to begin publishing forthcoming e-books in the format.

The new PRS-505 Reader model will support .epub files as well as Adobe eBooks with digital rights management (DRM) technology and have the capability to reflow standard text-based Portable Document Format (PDF) e-books, the company said. Existing owners can update their systems with new software.

The move is a significant step for both Sony and the e-book industry, Gartner analyst Michael McGuire told the E-Commerce Times.

“Sony has had a rep over the years of being fairly proprietary,” he said. “So this is a big move for Sony. But it’s really very important for the overall digital book, e-book marketplace because aside from [Amazon’s] Kindle, this is probably the leading device from the lead consumer electronics manufacturer that is a very well recognized brand.”

Opening the Book

The device will be first e-book reader to support .epub files, the International Digital Publishing Forum’s extensible markup language (XML)-based standard format for reflowable digital books and publications. With the format, publishers are able to use digital rights management in their content. They are also able to convert books into different formats and alter PDF-based e-books to fit within the dimensions of a reader’s screen.

The Kindle supports its proprietary .azw file format as well as .mobi files.

“The most important thing is that formats and standards can be used over a wide range of devices. The early days of any device category are often characterized by proprietary ‘standards’ that all go through this acceptance process. If you look at the specifications on most portable media players, they have a large number of file types they support. In this case, using certain formats improves the popularity both of the format and of compatible readers,” David Chamberlain, an In-Stat analyst, told the E-Commerce Times.

Book Wars

Sony’s move toward greater openness with its Reader is a sign of growth, McGuire said.

“What you’re seeing is maturation in Sony’s view that what will keep you in business over time isn’t necessarily having this locked-in proprietary technology — Apple notwithstanding,” he pointed out.

This move will give publishers a higher level of confidence in the long-term potential of the marketplace because they’re seeing a major player support a standard like that, McGuire explained.

“Over time, that should help convince them that devices will start flowing out that are not pursuing different standards and could confuse customers,” he added.

Anything the industry can do to unlock devices from particular formats will improve the entire industry, Chamberlain said.

“When consumers don’t have to worry that they’re going to end up with a dead-end hardware solution because the only compatible file type is in danger of extinction, it holds the mass market back greatly. That feeling of confidence is what most consumers are looking for,” he continued.

The new openness from Sony, according to McGuire, will be seen as an important step — if the market takes off.

“The short-term way to measure this is how Amazon reacts to this. Will this push them to be a little more open or at least support those formats? We’ll see people try to push different formats in this sector as we did with music and the music players. But at some point there has to be a set of formats that all the readers are using,” he noted.

1 Comment

  • This is great news. Long overdue. But can it really be true that the Sony Reader will accept encrypted ebooks from a public library? Palm devices have done so for a long time, but none of their devices are very good for ebook reading.

    It seems there is always a catch-22 no matter what the claim. Who knew that the printed word would be the last media form to become widely available. Let it be true!

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