Sony to embrace open e-book standard

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Today @ PC World blog at PCWorld.com.

Sony is expected to announce today that its line of e-readers will support the open ePub standard by the end of the year, according to The New York Times. EPub is a common file format for digital books being developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).

Producing books under one standard would make it easier for you to transfer your e-book collection across a variety of devices, and virtually guarantee you wouldn't be locked out of your e-book collection if support for your hardware ever disappears. Major publishers behind the ePub format include Harper Collins, Houghton Mifflin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster.

Open format still with DRM

Developing an open format for e-books is becoming increasingly important ever since Amazon reshaped the e-reader market with the launch of its Kindle devices. Sony followed by revitalizing its Reader devices, and Plastic Logic plans on releasing an impressive looking reader by 2010. But today most e-books you buy are locked onto a specific device, making it impossible to switch from say a Kindle to a Sony Reader or vice versa.

Widespread adoption of the ePub format would make it easier to use your e-reader of choice. But even though ePub lets you choose your hardware, open format books would still come with some form of digital rights management. As with the music and film industries, publishers are concerned that selling content without DRM would leave the industry open to widespread piracy.  Sony's plan is to do away with its own DRM software once it adopts the ePub format in favor of copy protection software from Adobe.

Amazon still closed, ePub alliance builds

Amazon, a member of the IDPF, is one of the major holdouts among e-reader producers to sign up for the ePub format. Given the perceived success of the Kindle—Amazon does not release Kindle sales data—the online retailer likely isn't too interested in encouraging competition in its own backyard by allowing books for the Kindle onto the Sony Reader.

But if Amazon isn't careful, the company could find its e-book business under threat as a growing alliance backs the ePub standard. In addition to major publishers backing ePub, Barnes & Noble—the self-proclaimed world's largest bookseller—announced in July that it would launch a Barnes & Noble eBookstore featuring only ePub titles.

Apple could also figure prominently in the future of the ePub standard. The iPhone is already becoming a popular way to consume e-books from Amazon and others, and Apple devices could become more important to e-books if the mysterious Apple Tablet ever comes to fruition. The rumored device would have a 9- to 10-inch screen similar to Amazon's Kindle DX making it ideal for reading a variety of printed media. It's not clear if Apple is interested in weighing in on open format e-books, but as Gartner analyst Allen Weiner told the New York Times, if Apple ever decides to exclusively support the ePub format then Amazon would need to reconsider its position.

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