E-reader trend needs common standards

More players eye piece of e-reader market, but consumers benefit only if readers are built to support one common standard, say industry players.
Written by Konrad Foo, Contributor

A growing number of companies are eyeing the market made popular by Amazon Kindle, but consumers will benefit most if e-readers are designed to support a common standard, say industry players.

More manufacturers have come up to announce plans to launch their own e-readers since the introduction of Kindle in 2007, signaling a strong trend in virtual books.

While most e-readers are currently sold outside Asia, Samsung Electronics announced its first reading and writing device in Korea, dubbed the Papyrus, said Sang Hoon Lee, the Korean company's senior manager of monitor product planning group.

Sony last month also released its own e-readers but while the Samsung e-reader is confined to Korea, Sony's systems are available in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Netherlands.

Both manufacturers operate their devices with e-book stores, where users can purchase and download digital books.

Sony runs its own e-book store in the U.S., and has partnerships in Europe where users in the region download their book titles from the local e-book stores in their respective country, according to a company spokesperson. Its partners include Waterstones, Fnac, Libri and Bol in the U.K., France, Germany and Netherlands, respectively, he told ZDNet Asia.

Sang said Samsung Papyrus users can purchase digital content from online store Kyobo, which also owns Korea's biggest bookstore chain.

He said in an e-mail that Samsung also aims to make the e-readers more user-friendly by supporting digital books based on the Epub (electronic publication) standard in future.

According to a Google spokesperson, Epub is a free, open standard supported by a growing ecosystem of digital reading devices. The Internet giant added EPUB as an additional format to support its online library of over 1 million public domain books.

"This special light-weight text-based digital book format allows text to automatically conform to smaller screens [such as mobile phones], that originally do not render image-based PDF versions of scanned books," the spokesperson for Google said in an e-mail.

In addition, smartphone and netbook users will also be able to download these digital books via Epub.

Google Books Search aims to make digital books more accessible by allowing people around the world to search and read book titles easily on various devices, the company spokesperson said.

Sony, which partners Google to provide over 1 million free public domain books through the company's U.S. e-book store, also announced plans for the Sony e-store to support the Epub format.

The Sony spokesperson said offering reading devices that support a common format such as Epub, would "eliminate confusion" among consumers searching for suitable content for different devices.

With a standard format, other devices will be able to purchase titles from the Sony e-book site but not be limited to just one store, he said. "There are also many other stores that use the Epub standard and [hence], provide content that's compatible with our own readers," he added.

Respecting author rights
The Sony spokesperson explained that the company works directly with publishers to protect the copyright of content owners. Titles available at Sony's e-book store are tagged with the company's DRM (digital rights management) technology, he said.

But, he noted that as Sony moves to the Epub format, it will need to implement an open, licensable DRM--managed by Adobe--to support the open standard.

Samsung e-readers also utilize its own propriety DRM tool, the company's spokesperson said, who added that there are no plans yet to move to the Adobe DRM platform.

Both Samsung and Sony declined to say if there are plans to launch their e-readers in other parts of Asia.

Based in Singapore, Konrad Foo is an intern with ZDNet Asia.

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