Google and Sony Gang Up on Amazon

Google is putting its book search technology to good use by allowing Sony to distribute more books for free.

Financial details of the deal between Google and Sony were not divulged, but what matters is that more than half a million books published before 1923 will be available on the Sony Reader for free.

Google told the Wall Street Journal that it is open to striking a similar deal with Amazon (subsr. reqd.), but don't expect that to happen anytime soon because Sony and Amazon have very different business models.

For Sony, the content is a driver for its device business. It's happy to cash in on the price of e-books, but that's not its primary concern.

The opposite is true of Amazon, for which the Kindle is just another vehicle for selling books. That's why it's happy to offer a Kindle app on the iPhone. All it really cares about is selling more books.

Of course, it's an outrage for Amazon to charge anything at all for books that are out of copyright--and for it to charge anything close to $10 for any e-books at all. There is no incremental cost to selling one e-book versus a million, and the book publishing industry will wither on the vine unless it understands that price is actually an issue.

That's why authors and readers both have reason to celebrate this deal because while it's unlikely that Amazon will ever give an e-book away, the threat from Sony might cause a price war on books that are still under copyright, and those are the books most people want to read in any case.