Sony to become iTunes of books?

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.

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TOPICS: Legal
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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?

Topic: Legal

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11 comments
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  • No chance

    Sorry, but no matter how technically impressive Sony's new reader is, it's going to fail massively. It just doesn't offer anything of great value, and at the same time, charges a humongous price.

    The iPod, at the very least, provides portability for one's entire music collection, new functionality like shuffling between your entire collection, creating playlists, etc.

    What does the Sony e-book offer? Sure, you can carry around your whole book collection at once, but so what? Unlike music, where you would obviously want to shuffle around, who would read one chapter from one book, then hop to another book?

    The iPod allows you to take the music you already own and put it on the player. The Sony book does not allow you to add the books you've already bought.

    So why would anyone in their right mind pay $400 for an e-book reader, just to have the chance to buy e-books for the same (if not more) price as a paper book? What's in it for the consumer?
    tic swayback
    • Small Chance but easier acces

      Like most people I'm not really convinced Sony can make this work. However, I can see the types of books that would be useful to carry around with you wherever you go: reference books (not just for the credits at the end of a report/essay). I'm going to have to do some work over the easter period & as I am going to be going to Germany, there is no way I can take even a few of the books I planned to use in case of emergencies. Not to mention more inspirational art and poetry books which I could definitely see myself shuffling through. In such cases, buying only a few chapters would make a lot of sense (of the option will be available).
      Manuals and How-to books could come in very handy when you could easily search them on a computer. Also: books from different countries which have not yet been translated could be much easier to get hold of.
      AdeLibelula9
  • Just Another Bad Idea From Sony

    There is no way this new product is going to be successful. Ultra Mobile PCs will be the new platform for ebooks. Why? Because it?s a multifunctional (PC) item (providing greater value), that will be able to do ebooks and the manipulation of electronic paper very well. Also the computer ecosystem will never support DRM in a sustained way. It is much too free and fluid to do so. The consumer PC industry is all about empowering and freeing consumers, while DRM is all about taking these qualities away. DRM is just not going to stick on the scale content providers and purveyors of this system like MS and Apple think.

    If content providers aren?t able to think out of the box and take advantage of vast new opportunities in this digital age, then opportunities will pass them by. Consumers will increasingly opt for new forms of entertainment, that will allow them to take their content with them with unbelievable ease and freedom. It is just plain foolish to think that you can pin down the consumer with DRM ? and in of all places: U.S. the land of freedom.
    P. Douglas
    • Here's how you make them successful

      This is the only way I see these things succeeding:

      1) Give the player away for free. No one is gonna pay $400 for something that's more limiting in many ways than a paper book.

      2) Charge less for the e-books than you do for a paper book. Production costs are much lower, so cut the cost and still make a nice profit. Since e-books are vastly less usable than a paper book (much of this due to the DRM), they're an inferior product and they should cost less.

      Don't expect Sony (or book publishers) to get this though. As an example, look at the new Windows only movie download system being proposed by the MPAA, where the downloads cost more than twice the price of a DVD and are vastly less usable.
      tic swayback
      • Even if Sony paid me $400, I wouldn't use it. :-) (NT)

        >
        P. Douglas
        • Generally, I agree

          I generally don't see the point. If it was set up so I could buy new hardcover books for $2, then sure, it'd be worth all the limitations, but I guarantee you they'll charge full cover price.
          tic swayback
  • Not likely - they don't feel like paper

    Ever since I read Ben Bova's "DynaBook", I have wanted one. This is close, BUT it is Sony and they have yet to resist manipulating the customer.

    If I can't loan a book to a friend (memory card) then it won't work. If the book expires then my library suffers. I own 30,000 books. I write some, when I find the time. I publish thru Lulu because the 'Creative Commons' licensing is easy and makes sense.

    If it doesn't beat me up to use it, then I will probably get one. But like BetaMax, Sony misses as often as it gets it right. [Beta machines were mechanically complex and failed regularly detroying the tapes - that is why VHS won.]
    plumley@...
  • Not bloody likely

    Given Sony's record with the rootkit, people could lose their jobs for installing the interface software, whether it actually has that kind of stuff in it or not.

    Sony has established beyond all doubt that they are *NOT* to be trusted.
    sehlat9
  • Re: "Proprietary C.R.A.P. will wreak havoc on the library system."

    "C.R.A.P." is definitely a concern for libraries. However, at this point, I'm a bit skeptical that Sony's, or for that matter, any other company's efforts along these lines will be that disruptive to them. Certainly not a time for complacency, though.
    ~1iota
  • Sony marketers are DOPES!

    Seems Sony hasn't studied history- specifically the idiotic establishment of Gemstar and its predictable demise. Gemstar bought out Rocketbook, a fairly nice reader, thinking users would flock to buy overpriced "content" from ITS store. They even, for a while, tried to make the reader incapable of displaying user-generated content. Guess what- Gemstar crashed and burned. No one is going to pay the same price for e-books that they pay for paper books (price should be 40% less off the bat, since we're not paying printing costs or shipping). Furthermore, a big reason many of the Gemstar units were sold was that users wanted to read content that was FREE (like Gutenburg stuff) or that they had generated.

    Now comes Sony. It, too, will fail miserably with its e-book reader, as will Irex, despite the nifty e-ink technology. Hey Sony- want to succeed? Here is what you do:
    1. Re-price that device. It should cost no more than $200, and probably around $150.
    2. Make your software so that it's easy to load content on the device- like PDFs, .chm's, etc. and also html that people ALREADY own.
    3. Realize users are not dopes, and peddle your own books at realistic prices. People might buy e-books if they didn't think they were getting bent over when they bought one.
    4. Re-design the device to include more memory- shoot, my old Rocketbook would hold "80 books."

    Think Sony will listen? I doubt it <G>. For $350, I will stick with my Palm. Why the heck wasn't this ZD review more critical of Sony's plan? Hmmm...could it be Sony plans to ADVERTISE in ZD mags?
    wjgrimm
  • Good idea - Time is right

    I may join the line to buy the Sony Reader PRS-500.

    It's a great size and great format. It should be the perfect electronic book.

    The big thing is that [b]it is not a PDA[/b]. It doesn't have an LCD screen. In fact, displaying information on the screen requires almost no energy at all. The "display" is a special ionized polymer that changes "color" when exposed to an electric current. So you're really reading text that is printed on a page.

    Pricey? Yes. But it's an entirely new class of device. The price will drop as more companies make devices that use the polymer sheet technology.

    The display technology (developed by eink) is flexible, under 2mm thick, and can be have a curve radius under 2 cm.

    An electronic book that is a real printed book will be great!
    Gzint