Sony is adopting an industry-standard format for its electronic book library, which will allow customers to buy and read its collection of electronic books even if they do not own or use one of Sony's e-book readers.
On Aug. 13, Sony announced that it plans to adopt EPUB, an XML-based standard format, for its eBook Store. Sony plans to convert its e-books to the new format by the end of 2009, according to the company's statement.
The New York Times first reported the story Aug. 12.
Sony's adoption of the EPUB format, which is supported by the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) and endorsed by more than 60 publishers and other organizations, is seen as a direct challenge to Amazon.com and its electronic book store. Since the beginning of 2009, Amazon has dominated the conversation growing around the e-book market with the release of its Kindle 2 device.
Not to be outdone, Sony has fought back hard in the last few weeks. In addition to releasing two new e-readers-the Reader Pocket Edition with a 5-inch screen and space for 350 eBooks, and a Reader Touch Edition with a touch-screen and SD Card slot-the company also has lowered the prices of best-selling titles and new releases.
The move allows Sony to expand the reach of its electronic bookstore without forcing people to buy the Sony Reader. In addition to Sony's own books, users can access about 1 million public-domain books from Google through the Sony eBook Store. The Google books are also based on the EPUB format.
Right now, Amazon.com uses its own format for its electronic books. While this has given Amazon.com a strong advantage with users who buy books from its online store, there have also been some problems.
On July 23, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos apologized to customers when the company mistakenly sold copies of George Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm" without permission. What disturbed many people was that Amazon.com erased the copies from customers' Kindles without notifying them first.
Sony also plans to protect the books it sells. In its announcement, the company said it will use Adobe Content Server 4, a piece of cross-platform server software, to create the DRM (digital rights management) technology that protects the copyright.
An article on ReadWriteWeb delves into the issue and shows that while Sony is certainly willing to open up its electronic bookstore to more users, it is doing so with an eye toward protecting authors' and publishers' copyrights, unlike what happened with the music industry.
The move by Sony to push the market to an industry standard could also be important as more and more companies develop e-readers and open up electronic bookstores. For instance, if Apple jumps into the market with a tablet-like PC that is also an e-reader, what format the company picks could have an impact on Sony and Amazon.com.
For now e-readers are a growing but still developing market. A July 29 report by Forrester Research shows that the growth of the market depends on pricing, as well as adoption by different groups of people. The report found that women may help create a much bigger market for e-reader devices.
For now, the Sony PRS-505 and the PRS-700 support both EPUB and reflowable PDF documents through Adobe Digital Editions 1.7 software. When the newer Reader Pocket Edition and Reader Touch Edition go on sale, both devices will support EPUB and PDF.