Sony to become iTunes of books?

Summary:From the company that brought you the rootkit debacle (Sony) comes news that it's latest incarnation of the electronic book -- the PRS-500 Portable Reader -- will be available for sale at Borders Bookstores.  Proprietary C.

From the company that brought you the rootkit debacle (Sony) comes news that it's latest incarnation of the electronic book -- the PRS-500 Portable Reader -- will be available for sale at Borders Bookstores.  Proprietary C.R.A.P. will wreak havoc on the library system. Talk about yer Trojan Horses.  This is sort of the equivalent of you're local record store signing its death warrant by selling iPods. 

OK, some of you are lost. 

You used to buy CDs from the local record store.  You buy an iPod.  Then you start buying songs a la carte from Apple's iTunes Music Store (IMS) for 99 cents and the local record store eventually goes out of business.  Some stats: Apple has sold over 1 billion songs through IMS.  In some countries, it has 70 percent of online digital music sales market.  Digital online music sales now account for 6 percent of all music sales (up from 4 percent last year).  Then, today, via Robert Scoble, comes more evidence that downloaded music is upending traditional sales channels.  From the Waxbox blog comes news of how a song topped the UK singles chart based on nothing but Net. Says the blog:

You've probably heard about this already, but Warner Music UK act Gnarls Barkley have made music history this Sunday with their debut single 'Crazy' topping the UK singles chart on downloads alone.

Sorry, a digression, but an important one to anybody but the French who doesn't believe IMS is a monopoly that, because of its tie to the iPod, controls choice over consumer electronics (sidenote: IMS played no role in the Gnarls Barkley first but it doesn't matter as long as IMS continues to dominate).  

So, why could Sony's PRS-500 be the new iPod (monopoly and all)?  Consider for a minute what Wade Roush MIT Technology Review had to say about the device:

Business Week writes: "Sony will take a page from Apple by setting up an online store, which will be run as part of its existing music downloading service, Connect. And as Apple did with music, Sony has lined up major players in publishing, including Random House, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins, to sell books through the store."....If that's true, and if the prices for Sony's books are as bearable as the $0.99 per song that Apple's iTunes charges, and if Sony figures out a less draconian digital-rights-management scheme than the one it uses in Japan (Librie books expire and erase themselves after 60 days), then the U.S. version of the Librie may well succeed where the previous generation of e-book devices failed.

Librie, for those of you not familiar with e-book lore, was Sony's previous e-book offering that crashed and burned with the rest of the crop of e-books around the turn of the century.  Amongst other failings, critics nailed it for it reliance on digital rights management (DRM) technology to prevent the sort of piracy-oriented devastation that the record industry is now all too familiar with.  Last month, Jeffrey Young, citing DRM (a.k.a. C.R.A.P.) as one of its problems, panned the new e-book right here on Between the Lines.  As a side note, the new e-book can read formats other than Sony's proprietary ones (eg: PDF).  But, chances are, just as with music sales, book publishers will want their content locked down before it can be digitized and released on the Net.  So, if Sony's e-book reader is to Apple's iPod.  And Sony's ebook C.R.A.P. is to Apple's music and video C.R.A.P.   And Sony opens an online bookstore that's akin to Apple's IMS, well, you can see where this is heading (in addition to "away" from brick and mortar bookstores like Borders not to mention how proprietary C.R.A.P. will wreak havoc on the library system).  Is this a deal with the devil?

Topics: Legal


David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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