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Sony exits the North American ebook business and gives its customers to Kobo

Sony (s SNE), which is essentially a non-player in the U.S. ebook market at this point, is cutting its losses and shutting down its digital bookstore in the U.S. and Canada, the company reported Thursday. “Sony is withdrawing from the digital reading business in the United States,” Sony spokeswoman Maya Wasserman confirmed.

The beneficiary is Kobo, which will take on Sony Reader customers and manage their ebook libraries starting in late March. Wasserman explained how the transfer to Kobo will work:

“Until the Reader Store is closed on March 20, 2014, customers can continue to shop at the Reader Store and use the Reader device. In late March, they’ll receive an email from Reader Store with instructions on how to transfer to Kobo. As part of the transfer process, Sony will send customers a link to enable them to transfer their Reader Store library and any Reader Store account credits to a Kobo account. Customers can also still download eBooks they previously purchased at Reader Store until April 30, 2014.”

More details are available in an FAQ at Sony’s site and foreshadow the customer complaints and transfer snafus that are likely to affect anyone who still uses a Sony Reader at this point. Users should note that “highlights, bookmarks and annotations you made in your Reader Store eBooks will not be available after you transfer your library to Kobo,” and “in a few rare cases, ebooks purchased at Reader Store may not be available at Kobo for re-download. In these situations, it is recommended that you download a copy of these titles from Reader Store before April 30, 2014.”

Sony Reader users abroad will not be affected, Wasserman said.

In addition, Kobo’s Android (s GOOG) app “will be pre-loaded on select Sony Xperia smartphones and tablets,” according to Sony’s official announcement, released in conjunction with its quarterly earnings. (The bigger news, from that report: Sony has sold off its PC business and plans to lay off 5,000 employees by the end of 2014.)

The news isn’t much of a surprise since Sony had said last fall it wouldn’t bother selling its new e-reader in North America, citing “the region’s market changes” (i.e., competition from Amazon (s AMZN) and, to a lesser extent, Barnes & Noble (s BKS) and Kobo). Kobo, which has a low ebook market share in the U.S. but a stronger presence in its home country, Canada, made news earlier this week when it replaced founder Michael Serbinis with a new CEO, parent company Rakuten’s Takahito Aiki.

7 Responses to “Sony exits the North American ebook business and gives its customers to Kobo”

  1. Joshua Smith

    This makes me sad. I love my PRS-T3. With frontlighting and at least 4GB internal, it would be unambiguously the best ereader on the market, and as it stands, it’s the best for my purposes (due to its high-res screen, reasonably fast processor, five physical buttons, and built-in sleep cover). If they ever do release a reader with frontlighting and physical buttons, I’ll probably have to buy it from Japan at a big premium. :(

  2. I expected this. Sony’s readers ruled the market where I live, but now everybody seems to have changed to mainly Kobo. And where you lose market share for your e-reader hardware, you also lose market share for your e-book store.

    I loved my old PRS-950. I still think it is the most beautiful e-reader I have seen.
    Then Sony dropped the ball. Their new e-readers just cannot compete with the modern competition.
    For stupid reasons Sony’s CEO’s wanted me to believe that I do not want front lighting or more internal memory on my e-reader. But I do want that. And Kobo delivered.
    So, like so many loyal Sony customers who own the aged PRS-650 and PRS-950 generation of readers I was forced by Sony to switch brands.
    I now own a Kobo AUra-HD. It could have been a new Sony…

  3. Kevin B. Walker

    I too had a Sony reader that I loved, although I hated the DRM issues. In my opinion, single purpose devices like the Sony and Kindle Readers are all going to be replaced eventually by tablets and smart phones. i have been reading e-books on my smart phone for the past couple of years and find that this works just fine for me. As for buying e-books, I purchase from, Sony store, nook, and Google Playbooks, and read them all on my smart phone using their free readers. Sorry to see you go Sony, but there won’t be any impact for me.

    • Mary Ellen

      I am able to use my Sony eReader more easily than my Kindle. I am not sure if I will continue to purchase ebooks now as I REALLY loved purchasing & reading ebooks on my Sony Reader. I also purchased a Sony VAIO Flip 15 [laptop & tablet combined} but am now regretting that decision. No wonder Sony didn’t have a replacement part for my VAOI. If they are no longer making PCs, don’t you think they should have at least alerted me to this fact BEFORE I made my purchase???: