The drive to standardise e-book formats got a boost on Thursday when Sony announced plans to convert its eBook store to the open EPUB format by the end of the year.
Sony’s decision is a direct assault on Amazon, the early leader in the nascent e-book market.
Amazon currently sells e-books that only can be read on its Kindle device or Kindle software on the Apple iPhone, which effectively locks users into the Amazon system.
EPUB is an industry standard e-book format that can be read on multiple devices. It was developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum and a consortium of important publishers including Random House and Houghton Mifflin.
Widespread adoption of the EPUB format would allow e-book owners to shift their digital library from one device to another, as is common practice with CDs and DVDs.
“A world of proprietary formats . . . creates silos and limits overall market growth,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s Digital Reading Business Division. “Consumers should not have to worry about which device works with which store. With a common format and common content protection solution, they will be able to shop around for the content they want regardless of where they get it or [whichever] device they use.”
Sony, which sells its Reader devices as a rival to the Amazon Kindle, has rapidly advanced its e-book programme in recent months.
In March, it announced a partnership with Google by which it will offer 500,000 books that Google has scanned through its online eBook store.
That has made Sony the largest repository of e-books, with more than 1m, compared with Amazon’s approximately 320,000 e-books.
Then last week it introduced two new low-cost versions of the Reader, priced at $199 and a touch-screen version for $299. The Kindle, which does not have a touch-screen, is priced at $299 for the standard version, and $489 for the larger DX model.
At the same time, Sony dropped the prices of fresh releases and best sellers in its eBook store to $9.99.
This week, Sony announced plans for an event later in the month, at which it is expected to present a wireless version of its Reader, in order to compete more directly with the Kindle.
The EPUB alliance is growing. Barnes & Noble, the world’s largest bookseller, said in July it would begin to sell e-books with the EPUB format.
A raft of new e-book readers will arrive on the market in the coming year, including a highly anticipated device from Plastic Logic that will support the EPUB format, and the rumoured Apple tablet, which analysts expect to serve as an e-reader.
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