Sony Launches E-Book Format War With ePub Push

Sony said Thursday it will sell digital books only in the ePub format by the end of the year.

It will also replace its proprietary digital rights management software with technology from Adobe, which is widely used in the e-publishing industry.

The moves are part of an aggressive new strategy kicked off with Sony’s reorganization earlier this year.

The decision could leave Amazon.com’s Kindle, which uses proprietary digital technology, out in the cold.

Appealing to the Masses

Sony’s e-bookstore currently supports its own proprietary BBeB format as well.

The wholesale move to more open — or at least de facto — standards could broaden Sony’s reach, letting owners of other vendors’ e-readers buy and read e-books from Sony.

Sony has supported ePub since August 2008, when it unveiled the PRS-505 in its Reader Digital Book series of e-readers.

Its support of ePub strengthens that standard’s position as the de facto leader in the e-publishing market.

“This move cements ePub as the open book publishing standard, and that leaves Amazon isolated,” Laura DiDio, principal of ITIC, told TechNewsWorld.

“Steve Haber has said Sony’s intention is to lead by example — he intends to be a Pied Piper and lead everyone away from Amazon,” DiDio explained. Haber is president of Sony’s digital reading unit.

“Sony’s end game is to put its own imprimatur on ePub,” she added.

Slouching Toward Adobe

Moving to Adobe’s DRM technology will cement Sony’s mass appeal. The market has picked up Adobe quickly. The Adobe Reader Mobile 9 SDK, which has been integrated into readers supporting the Adobe DRMed format, was launched less than six months ago.

There are 17 e-book readers supporting the Adobe DRMed ePub format, according to the ePub blog.

These include the EZ Reader; the BeBook; the iRex Digital Reader 100S; and four models of the Sony Reader.

Kindle and the Art of War

Back in February, Sony announced a new management team and a major reorganization that was to take effect in April.

The aim was to improve the profitability and strengthen the competitiveness of the company’s electronics and game businesses, as well as speed up production of innovative networked products and services.

“This move to ePub and Adobe seems to be part of a well-orchestrated and strategic plan from Sony,” DiDio said.

“If I were Amazon, I’d be seriously considering my options and looking for a way to open Kindle up. It’s very easy to lose the lead,” she added.

Indeed, the next wave of e-reader buyers is likely to be women who read a lot but buy fewer of their books online than the first wave, which was made up mostly of highly paid male tech fans, suggests a recent Forrester report.

“This spells trouble for Amazon — and opportunity for consumer electronics manufacturers like Sony, mass-market retailers like Wal-Mart, and publishers like Harlequin, which could (and do) target these consumers with e-book subscription services,” reads the report, which is entitled “Who Will Buy an eReader?”

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