Leave it to O'Reilly to head up open source eBooks. Bookworm, an open source platform for reading eBooks online is now in O'Reilly Labs. Having the free reader is great -- but how will we get the content?
The project is open source, though developer Liza Daly says that some features may be added that aren't open sourced, but "core Bookworm code will remain open-source. If you would like to use Bookworm code, even commercially, you're encouraged to do so." (Emphasis hers.)
Glad to see O'Reilly pushing this, though the "some features may be added that aren't open sourced" is less than inspiring. However, assuming Bookworm builds a healthy community, it will likely get all the open source features it needs from the community if not O'Reilly.
This is what Amazon should have been doing. Many have been hoping Amazon would open up the Kindle a bit and allow the community to make the platform better and more multi-function, but adding eBooks to more open devices is also good.
But, open source is at a disadvantage in this media market (as with the others). Why? There's likely to be a lot more content in Amazon's Kindle format than in the ePub format for the foreseeable future. People (mostly) don't choose an e-reader by licensing, they choose it by the type of content that's available in that format.
There's the public domain content that's being brought into digital formats by Project Gutenberg and others -- but who wants to be limited to books in the public domain? O'Reilly has some tools for publishers on its Bookworm site, but it mostly seems geared to Web publishing and small publishers. Until you can get the latest John Irving novel via ePub (as an example), the appeal of the format seems pretty limited.