Has Sony Just Lost Its eBook Battle?

The first post at teleread when I hit it today was:

Novelist using Kindle Store to test his wares for P edition: E Ink and the wireless connection could help draw in the right readers

This is a nuclear bomb. And Sony’s just been nuked.

Although I don’t yet have one, I’m still enthusiastic about the Sony Reader (index to my original four-part series at the old blog). I still think it’s the best hardware design for an ebook reader, far surpassing the iLiad, the Cybook, and especially that button-festooned Kindle.

Obviously it’s been a success for Sony because they introduced a second-generation unit last year. While the design is rather boxy and minimalist (perhaps too much so), it has an improved button placement and uses the latest generation of e-Ink screen (the Kindle uses the prior generation).

sony-reader-505s.jpg

And yet… they’ve done nothing with it.

I was aghast when Amazon released the abominable Kindle and suddenly — like magic! — ebooks and reading devices seemed to suddenly exist as a brand new thing, never before heard of, to many people. After having its Reader on the market for over a year, after confirming its success with a new version, Sony was left not simply in the shadows, but out the door in the alley and then in the shadows.

It shouldn’t have been that way.

Apparently those in charge of things at Sony are somewhat helpless in popularizing their nascent success.

So I will help.

1) Give away the ebook file format. That’s right. Let anyone and everyone have it, royalty-free. There’s a precedent for this, Sony helped set it, and Sony reaped millions and millions of dollars from that move and created a new worldwide standard. They did it in conjunction with Philips when they introduced the Compact Cassette tape format. Permit me to quote the relevant passage from that wikipedia link:

History

Philips introduced the compact audio cassette medium for audio storage in Europe in 1963, and in the United States in 1964, under the trademark name Compact Cassette. Although there were other magnetic tape cartridge systems at the time, the Compact Cassette became dominant as a result of Philips’s decision (in the face of pressure from Sony) to license the format free of charge. It went on to become a popular (and re-recordable) alternative to the turntable for LP records during the late 1970s.

Emphasis added by me.

Sony, you used to understand these things. Or was it only Akio Morita who did? At any rate, it’s there, it’s part of your corporate history. Learn from it. Do it again.

2) Open your ebook store. Because you’ve held onto the file format, you’ve allowed Amazon a huge advantage here by allowing writers to immediately publish their works and sell them via the Kindle Store. This is really inexcusable, Sony. Do any of you use the Internet? What is the Internet but the largest self-publishing effort in the total history of humanity? How could you have missed that connection? With the year-long advantage you had, your ebook store could have boasted of thousands of titles the Kindle Store lacked. All of them original. And some of them would have remained exclusive to your store because we writers are loyal beasts. We remember who treats us right (and vice versa!).

3) Generate some excitement! You’ve partnered with Borders. Use that partnership to one another’s advantage. Why aren’t there weekly Sony Reader Demonstration Nights at Borders? Why are the Readers all alone, nailed down on a kiosk (so they now can’t even be held in the hand!) in a hard-to-find area of the store? Do any of you realize that — thanks to Amazon! — ebook prices are now competitive with print book prices? And in some instances ebook prices are actually better? Since the introduction of the Kindle, I’ve found many titles below their mass-market paperback pricing. I’d buy them in e, not p, now. And I think many other people would do the same too. If they were educated about that fact. Will you and Borders tell them?

4) Add wireless. Even if it’s just WiFi, that would help greatly. eBooks are lightweight things and even WiFi can handle downloading them. I know there are those at Sony who said wireless should have been built-in from the start. I hope you remember who those people were — and give them promotions. They understand and should be permitted more of a voice in the product. Whoever it was that blocked wireless should get a nice corner office — back in Japan. (If it was an American executive, even moreso. Do us the favor of removing that person from this country so he can’t go on to do such damage at another company!)

5) Get it into other parts of the world. Publishing is global. Your Reader should be global too. eBooks have a huge advantage over print: they can’t be suppressed by governments or conspiracies. By widening the Reader’s market availability, economies of production scale can begin to really kick in and help the price to plummet. Amazon will not stand still with the Kindle. There are already rumors of European introductions. Do you intend to let an inferior hardware product win?

You don’t have much time, Sony. You must make some bold moves to keep the Reader alive. This month alone you will be facing threats on several fronts: the Consumer Electronics Show and MacWorld Expo.

Don’t surrender! And please start fighting!

Update 01/03/08: As is pointed out in the Comments, I forgot to include a key thing: Mac compatibility! I did mention that in part one of my original coverage:

I think the lack of Mac compatibility is a mistake by Sony. iPod sales really exploded once Apple made iTunes PC-compatible. I think Mac compatibility, in a likewise manner, would make Sony Reader sales explode. Mac people would buy the Reader like mad.

And I think it’s doubly important today. Creative people are the majority of Mac users. Both artists and writers. By ignoring them, Sony has shot itself in the foot. Aside from having conventional text books on an open Sony Connect ebook store, Sony could have graphic novels by the many artists out there who toil on their Macs.

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11 Comments on “Has Sony Just Lost Its eBook Battle?”

  1. Phil Holmer Says:

    One more thing: make the Sony Reader compatible with Macs! My wife & I were all set to buy one at Borders for her Dad, who turns 90 today. However, the box clearly says it is compatible only with Windows. We all use Macs, including my 90-year old father-in-law, so the Sony Reader is out of the question for us.

  2. mikecane Says:

    Thanks for adding that, Phil. After I finished the piece, I didn’t publish it for a half hour because I had a nagging suspicion I’d left something out. Now I know what it was!

  3. Paul Biba Says:

    I use a Mac and have found that the Sony Reader software works perfectly in Windows XP running under Parallels.

  4. mikecane Says:

    Some people won’t buy or use any MS products. It’s against their religion.

  5. MontiLee Says:

    I was one of the lucky few who got a hold of th PRS-500 when it was introduced – my sister works from Sony and they were giving it away at one of their seminars last year. She doesn’t read much so she gave it to me. WIN!

    Anyway, It’s currently holding about forty novels, one of which was written by my writing partner, one is an anthology of his, and also an anthology of mine Sony was supposed to make the .lrf/BBeB format open source a while and they still haven’t. There are programs available to convert books from text to .lrf, but I can say hardly any of them have been updated in a while, and they require a learning curve that those of us who don’t have extensive GUI training may not have the patience to ride out.

    I would really love a scroll function on mine. While I don’t mind pretending to turn the page (I read a lot in the tub or while knitting). Also, the mp3 function I suppose is nice, if I’m not going to carry around something that large to listen to audio books. You can’t shuffle songs you may load up, and it doesn’t stay paused where you leave it. That’s why I have an iPod Nano – for music and books. I will say the ear buds are nice for ignoring people while you read on the bus. It’s pretty awesome.

    Black and white pictures? Meh. There are far better uses for those resources.

  6. Maria Thoms Says:

    I have a sony PRS-505 which I have loved till recently. I have just converted to a MAC from a PC and ‘m very disappointed that I cannot easily establish a second account on my new MAC. I’m not too keen on running a dual program on my MAC in order to access window programs. It’s rather like buying a merecedes and inserting a ford engine under the hood. Sony, you must get a grip! Make the ebook compatible with the MAC.

  7. Andrew Says:

    Well, I’m writing near Halloween ’08. Sony is about to release its next version of the Reader; Mac compatibility to buy the books is not mentioned. I am an example of Sony’s limited vision, as in the past 20 months my family bought 3 macs, as old computers die and kids come of age to have their own. It was a straight line from iPod to Macintosh. By the way, I’m in Borders Bookstore about once a week, and on Amazon web site about once a day. Both Sony and Borders would benefit from my interest in buying ebooks. Finally, I’m old enough to have grown up with Sony stuff all over the house. My love for Sony is primal. It’s like Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder.

  8. mikecane Says:

    I’m hoping Sony will come to its senses. I hope they’ve been working on an OS X version of the eLibrary software. CES is January. I hope they at least show an *alpha* version, if there is one.

  9. Mary O'Malley Says:

    Another request , plea for Mac compatiblity. All Mac users, iPod and iPhone users would just love a Reader if only we could access with our Macs and running Windows on the Mac is not the way to go. Please, Sony. Have sense.

  10. Joel Thoman Says:

    Kindle is no more open than Sony on the format issue. Actually the Sony device looks to be more open when that comparison is done. Mac users can use software like Parallels to access it with little to no trouble. Do you all like the Sony readers?


  11. […] Has Sony Just Lost Its eBook Battle? « Mike Cane 2008Jan 2, 2008 … Joel Thoman Says: May 2, 2009 at 12:53 pm. Kindle is no more open than Sony on the format issue. Actually the Sony device looks to be more … […]


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