Google (NSDQ: GOOG) will provide Sony (NYSE: SNE) with some 500,000 copyright-expired titles for its e-book Reader, giving both companies the chance to take jabs at Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Kindle. Sony can claim that it has a much-larger library and is more open; Google gets prime placement at the Sony eBook store and a boost in positive (it hopes) publicity for Google Book Search. Each is emphasizing open platform, a dig at Amazon and its proprietary Kindle format.
Take this statement from Steve Haber, president of the Digital Reading Business Division at Sony Electronics: “We have focused our efforts on offering an open platform and making it easy to find as much content as possible – from our store or others – whether that content is purchased, borrowed or free.” And this from Google’s Adam Smith: “We believe in an open platform for accessing and reading books, and we’re excited to partner with Sony to help bring these public domain books to more people.” Release.
Amazon has been building its sale catalog steadily since Kindle’s launch — to more than 245,000 as of today, compared with Sony’s 100,000 or so. Sony now can boast that it offers more than 600,000. With the electronic readers priced in a similar range (Sony’s PRS-505 is about $300 and a price cut today puts its PRS-700 model slightly less then Kindle at $350), including the free books might sound like an advantage to Sony — especially in these frugal days. But the Kindle as a device isn’t a walled garden.
Amazon doesn’t make it easy: The suggestion is that Kindle users can’t access public-domain books. That isn’t the case — I’ve read several on my Kindle, formatted for .mobi by volunteers who believe in sharing public domain books through Project Gutenberg. Versions also can be read in pdf and text. I also can access books and other material through the experimental web browser. But Amazon doesn’t make it easy — and this could be Sony’s biggest selling point. Sony and Google are trying to make accessing books from the public domain a push-button process, not a hack or a workaround. Rex Hammock provided my starting point and suggested back then that Amazon should include Project Gutenberg in its Kindle store results. It wouldn’t, he predicted, “because Amazon (unlike Apple) has the DNA of a retailer and not a device marketer. Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) discovered that easy access to free content sells hardware. I have my doubts about whether or not Amazon can make that leap.” Unfortunately, so far, he’s been proven right.