Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ebooks (Vol. 3.a): Google Jumps Into the Fray

This isn't exactly an atomic bomb attack by Sony against Amazon, but it's definitely a precision missile strike. People like numbers, and being able to tell people their library has over 600,000 books - compared to Amazon's 250,000 - is a major selling point. Combine that with Sony's device being able to handle more formats that Amazon... if only Sony could figure out how to ADVERTISE their device better.

NY Times
Sony Reaches Deal to Share in Google’s E-Book Library
Published: March 18, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — Aiming to outdo and recapture the crown for the most digital titles in an e-book library, Sony is announcing Thursday a deal with Google to make a half million copyright-free books available for its Reader device, a rival to the Amazon Kindle.

Since 2004, Google has scanned about seven million books from major university and research library collections. For now, however, Google can make full digital copies available only of books whose copyrights have expired.

The books available to Reader owners were written before 1923 and include classics like “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” by Mark Twain, and “The Awakening,” by Kate Chopin, as well as harder-to-find titles like “The Letters of Jane Austen.”

“We have focused our efforts on offering an open platform and making it easy to find as much content as possible, and our partnership with Google is another step in that direction,” said Steve Haber, president of the digital reading business division of Sony Electronics. “We would love to continue working with Google to see how we can get more content for Reader owners.”

The companies did not disclose financial terms of the deal.

Sony is hoping that the partnership and its newly expanded library help slow some of the Kindle’s momentum. Amazon currently has 250,000 books in its Kindle library, but it stresses that they are the books people are most interested in reading, like new releases and best sellers.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, has said that works in the public domain, like those Google is making available to Sony, are easy to get since there are no copyrights attached.

Google has been working to encode books in a free, open electronic publishing format, ePub, which makes them easier to read on devices like the Reader. The company is aiming to gradually increase the number of copyright-free books in the Google Book Search catalog available to Sony and any other e-book distributor that shares its goals of making books more accessible.

Google is displaying only short snippets on its Web site of books that remain under copyright protection, which are the vast majority of the books it has scanned. Under a sweeping settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought by authors and publishers, which has yet to be approved by a judge, Google would have more freedom to sell copies and split the proceeds with rights holders.

A new "store" was added to the Sony library software, effective 9 p.m. Pacific Time yesterday. It will let Sony Reader owners download the 500,000 public domain e-books to their libraries, and their Readers, at no charge. And non-Reader owners, including Kindle owners with the right conversion software for ePub, can also benefit. This is only a part of Google’s library of 1.5 million books, but Google is working to add the rest of the books to this program. Google and Sony did not give a time frame for completion of this project.

This program is part of Sony’s commitment to an open platform, as opposed to the closed platform of its major competitor. The ePub conversion is being done by Google itself, as noted; and Sony and Google are exploring ways to make copyrighted ePub material available.

Sony also will be working with libraries to make the commercial ePub material available in the public library’s typical time limited format for copyrighted material. This is nothing new, it is being done today in conjunction with Overdrive, but Sony would like to make this library interaction easier, perhaps even making it part of the Sony store. No time frame has been set for this.

Sony has also indicated support for the Mac, and said that a Mac version of the store would be forthcoming.

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