Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Sony and e-Books: a toilsome relationship

Sony was the first company that commercially hijacked the term e-Book in 1990. Ever since it has been producing prototypes of e-Books; so far the e-Books never became a consumer product in terms of numbers. At the beginning of the year it presented the Sony Reader. This reader is based on the E-Ink/Philips technology, which is famous for its clear, crisp screen and readability in the meantime. But will the Sony Reader be a success? No, for Sony is making the same mistake again, even with 15 years experience in the field of E-Books.

The mistake is the use of a proprietary format. Instead of joining the OpenReader format, Sony is holding on to its proprietary standard BBeB. Granted, besides BBeB the reader carries PDF/JPEG/MP3 formats, but for publishing there is only BBeB. It is one the lessons not learned by Sony after more than 15 years experience with e-Books. The company has learned nothing of the format fight of CD-ROM in 1985 and CD-I in 1991.

Their first e-Book in 1991 consisted of a reader (450g) with black/white screen with rules of 40 digits, a mini-disc (200Mb) and was accompanied by a proprietary format. Producers could not get the reader without the proprietary EB format, had to sign a non-disclosure document and had eventually to pay for it. The product never became a success in Europe and the USA. But Sony kept on pushing it in Japan, improving on the hardware, making it lighter and putting colours in the screen. Up to the last Librie model, the e-Book sported a proprietary format.

The proprietary format should generate money from the number of copies produced and running under the format. With a bestseller, also Sony will profit from hardware sales and the proprietary format. It is a shortsighted view as books cannot be exchanged and in case of a success have to be retooled especially for the Sony Reader. It is a pity, such a nice piece of consumer equipment with a proprietary format. It remains a toilsome relationship between Sony and e-Books after all these years. But just wait and hold your breath for E-Ink/Philips/iRex readers which carry the Open Reader. For the Netherlands a bundle of the tablet with free books in Openreader is under developement.


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