Sony trumps Amazon with e-book reader

Though for e-books to catch on, a common, open format for the books and less-expensive, even thinner hardware readers are needed

E-books are doubtless the future of reading, and Sony's newest device, the "Reader Daily Edition" makes good by supporting on open e-book format. But, ouch, the sticker shock!

Yes, I know what books cost. I have a house full of books and stagger to think how much I have spent on them, how much room they require for housing, and how hard is it for me to part with even a single one of them.

A real optimist, I've been told, is someone who buys more books than they can ever hope to read. By that standard, I am an incredible optimist.

Available in December at US$399, the Sony Daily Edition has much to recommend it. First, it isn't an Amazon Kindle. That means it doesn't tie you to Amazon's proprietary e-book format. That, however, also means you don't have access to all the books already available in that format and not available in ePub, which Sony supports.

Amazon claims 300,000 books are available in Kindle format. I could not find a good estimate for the number of titles available in ePub, though it must be vastly smaller at the present time.

The new Sony features a 7-inch screen. I would expect the $399 price now being quoted to be discounted when the unit is actually available for sale. By comparison, Amazon's Kindle has a 6-inch screen and sells for $299. The Kindle DX, with its 9.7-inch screen sells for $489.

I am not enough of an e-book expert to know whether there is enough content in the open ePub format that Sony uses to drive sales this Christmas. One important difference between Sony and Amazon is that, being primarily a hardware company, Sony is happy to work with OverDrive to provide access to ePub-formatted books through public libraries.

This, alone, may be reason enough to buy Sony and is a big moral win over Amazon.

Here's how it works: Check the book out online and on the due date the book simply expires from your reader. When e-readers are popularly-priced, this feature could make public libraries much more relevant to modern reader's needs, though publishers' licensing restrictions could become an issue.

I hope Jeff Bezos will realize that his proprietary Kindle e-book format has "1970" written all over it. Maybe even "1965". For e-books to catch on, as I believe they will, we need a common, open format for the books and less-expensive, even thinner hardware readers.

Sony is on the right track. Amazon, though presently the market leader, is not.

Industry veteran David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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David Coursey

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