How Sony can STILL beat Amazon in the e-book battle

image Has Sony forever lost the e-book battle to Amazon and the Kindle? The Irish Times certainly paints a gloomy picture. Hey, Sony, I warned you. Months and months ago I called attention to Amazon's huge inventory of titles.

Still, I'd argue that Sony can bounce back. How?

1. Sony can work closely with small publishers and help develop and promote good commercial books that would be competitive with Amazon's. Even better, suppose Sony does not just rely on its own e-bookstore but actually teams up closely with others to improve the quality and range of content for its readers. Keep in mind, meanwhile, that some of the 150,000 titles claimed by Amazon are not books but blogs and newspapers. What's more, accurately or not, I've heard that many of Amazon's books are academic titles without much popular appeal.

2. In a related vein, Sony should be a vigorous promoter of the nonDRMed flavor of the ePub standard for use in its store and others. Consumers want to buy books they can truly own. Beyond that, by de-emphasizing formats, Sony could reduce Amazon's advantage that it has with Mobipocket.

Ironically, however, even Amazon could benefit from a truly nonproprietary approach without DRM to muck it up. Minus eBabel and DRM, e-books will be more trustworthy as purchases.

3. Sony should accelerate development of a wireless version of the Sony Reader and make it work smoothly with a variety of stores. All in all, Sony understands ergonomics and design better than Amazon does. Play to strengths.

4. Don’t just fight Amazon on the dedicated-reader front. Also think about e-books on cellphones. Should the iPhone get all the action?

5. Forge alliances with major retailers to let the Sony readers and cell phones serve as catalogue displays for a wide range of products—everything from washing machines to big-screen TVs. Sony could even set up a retail network to compete with Amazon’s. The use of hardware for commerce beyond e-books could help justify the technology further.

6. Improve Sony’s customer service, so that if problems arise with the reader, people get solutions quickly and effortlessly.

Note: I’m neutral. Maybe in the future I’ll do a version of the above from Amazon’s side. But for now, Sony has gained some Brownie points with me because of its embrace of the ePub standard. Now to get Sony to back off from DRM, just as Amazon avoided its use in its MP3 store.

(Irish Times article via MobileRead.)

17 Comments on How Sony can STILL beat Amazon in the e-book battle

  1. Bah, Rothman! One of your points is what I’ve intended for my Apple eBooks post. So don’t think I’m copying you when it happens. I just hope I remember to link back here so they can see Great Minds and alla that…

  2. In line with #3, having used both, I find the Sony is a better-made and sturdier product. The Kindle has all kinds of reliability problems.

  3. I’ve seen a few of these Sony Bookstore versus Amazon arguments lately and I think that the bloggers are overlooking a major source of ebooks for Sony; Adobe Digital Editions. Now that the 505 can read Adode Digital Editions and ePub books its available books have sky rocketed. You have to start counting all the Digital Editions books at sites like http://www.ebooks.com, http://www.booksonboard.com, http://www.ebookmall.com, and the list goes on and on. Not to mention all the publishers that you can buy direct in Adobe Digital Editions format and libraries that lend in ebooks with it as well. Count all thoes up for Sony and let us know who has more ebooks available.

    With the Kindle you are stuck with Amazon. With Sony you can choose any site or multiple sites that you like. In fact, with all the Adobe Digital Edition sites competing for business the prices are bound to be lower; unlike the one source with Amazon. Also, with Adobe Digital Editions you can have up to six computers and devices authorised to read your books; Kindle, only one.

    Don’t count out Sony just yet.

    Ed

  4. From a publisher perspective, I want both the Sony and Kindle to do well.

    First, Sony needs to make it easy for publishers to offer Sony-formatted eBooks. Sure ePub is okay and I’m glad they’re doing it, but why not put out a “Creator” like Mobipocket’s and make it as cheap for publishers to add their books to the Connect store.

    Second, Sony needs to really bend over backwards to get Fictionwise on their side. Amazon/Kindle/Mobipocket is a formidable retail machine. Sony Connect isn’t. Fictionwise has a great list of books and publishers, and its own eBook reader, the eBookWise, is aging.

    Third, Wi-Fi as quickly as possible.

    Good luck, Sony. I’d hate to see the market devolve to only Kindle in the tablet space and iPhone in the pocketable space. But Sony had many months of lead and didn’t really carve out the market. It’ll have to work doubly hard to catch up now.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher, http://www.BooksForABuck.com

  5. Richard C Schmidt // August 12, 2008 at 9:33 am //

    In response to Rob Preece’s comment, yes the 1150 has a number of severe problems. These include, but are not limited to 1) out dated memory card, 2) limited format 3) poor visibility.

    But, the one thing the Rocket engineers got right was the ERGONOMICS!!!!

    It is easy to hold in my left hand and turn pages with my left thumb. That’s forward and backwards folks.

  6. Richard C Schmidt // August 12, 2008 at 10:56 am //

    QQPS – Sorry about that.

    Item 3) should have read `poor visibility in sun/say light conditions`

    ……….. :-(

    Rich

  7. On Point One: Sony definitely has to become more competitive in its content offerings. I noticed a few weeks ago that Amazon was looking to hire “Kindle Evangelists.” The primary job function? Meet with publishers, editors, and literary agents and collaborate with them about moving content to into the e-book market. Sony needs to counter with similar positions and promote a “the market’s big enough for all of us” approach.

    I’ve also heard from a small e-book savvy publisher I work with that Amazon made it a lot easier to move a book into Kindle format than Sony did. That’s got to change as well. Publishers aren’t going to move in Sony’s direction if a lot of technical hurdles are placed before them. They’ll take the path of least resistance.

    The publisher I’m thinking of still hasn’t commenced direct work with Sony, preferring to provide a Reader-compatible format on his website with Fictionwise as a second avenue for a Sony-compatible format.

    If content is king, then Sony might well be ignoring it at its own peril. And I say this as a much pleased Sony Reader user who doesn’t want her Reader experience to end.

  8. Sony promote non-DRM’d products? Hey, do I hear the sound of flapping wings on pigs? Because, given their history, that’s when you’ll see THAT happen!

  9. @Ed: ADE ebooks elsewhere? I haven’t seen them. All I’ve seen are Adobe PDF versions. Is one of us confused?

    @Fred: Sony here in America has tried its best to make the Reader more open than Sony Japan would ordinarily want it to be. It’s had, for instance, SD card capability from the start. It was originally the Librie in Japan (with more buttons than the Kindle!), failed, and was reborn here. It’s not even sold in Japan!

  10. Sony seems to have a history of losing the lead. Walkman: lost to the iPod. Playstation: lost to the Wii. (Though they did manage to pull off a win with the Bluray, I’ll give them that.) And now the ebook reader is losing out to the Kindle.

    Sony’s multiple failures at “killing” the iPod (largely because of the extreme schizophrenia between Sony’s hardware and content divisions) do not lend confidence to the likelihood of their being able to “kill” the Kindle.

  11. The Sony Connect store needs to fix all the books they are selling. I bought a few from the store and they look like CRAP on my Sony PRS-505. I’m not sure why the content looks so bad because Sony knows it’s device and the specifications but with every book I bought the font was too small and the margins took up most of the screen. (enlarging the font didn’t help with the margin problem)

    I think that for me is the biggest reason I’m buying from mobipocket, killing the drm, and from there I convert to LRF so I can read the book on my Sony PRS-505.

    Basically, the guys at mobile read are doing a much better job of converting the classics to LRF than the Sony Connect Store which isn’t a good sign for the company.

  12. @Chris, not to pile on … but there was the CLIE too. Blu-Ray was hardly a win. It was outright bribery.
    http://mikecane2008.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/fail-sony-spent-3b-to-kill-hd-dvd/

  13. @Mike Cane: If you read the format information on those sites (I’d say all sites selling PDF ebooks) you’ll see that the Adobe PDF is actually Adobe Digital Editions.

  14. I think Sony has lost. Amazon has won.

    The ideal situation for writers, publishers, and readers, is if there are those companies that produce hardware readers, and a universal standard file format, and publishers all publishing in this one format, and booksellers, online and offline, that sell the ebooks in that format to be read on any one of those readers.

    Publishers insist on DRM – and that is what is crippling the entire notion of commercial ebooks.

    This is what allows Amazon to create its own proprietary format with its own DRM, and use its dominant position online, to muscle its Kindle to #1.

    Sony tried also to do the whole enchilada, but they did not have Amazon’s pre-existing customer base of millions of people who buy books every year. And Sony did not get the online connection to make browsing and purchasing so addictive, that we hear stories about new Kindle owners spending too much money on books!

    With a Kindle, you can surf the web and read blogs and newspapers without even buying books.

    The publishers, with their blind insistence on DRM, have given away the store to Amazon, the way the music labels gave their business to Apple.

    But now that the music labels are selling non-DRM mp3 songs, Amazon (and others) can compete with Apple.

    Book publishers need to get on the ball and follow the music labels’ lead here.

    (Unfortunately, there have been quotes from RIAA lawyers indicating that non-DRM music is just a tactical ploy, and temporary, until they can leverage some sort of universal DRM where they get paid every time anybody listens to any song, or any fragment of a song.)

  15. @Ed — ah, the fine print my eyes glaze over. Usually I see Adobe and think PDF, bah. Thanks for the education!

  16. I think Sony has the potential to do really well here in the UK, provided the September launch of the Reader with Waterstones turns out okay.

    Also the Kindle will require a redesign before it can be launched in Europe since we don’t have EVDO. Despite the fact that ebooks don’t really need a high bandwidth connection, 3G would probably be a sensible replacement choice of mobile connection, as that would work not only in Europe but also in Japan where the mobile phone system no longer supports anything less than 3G.

    Wifi should also be added as there are a huge number of wifi hotspots here (for example, in the UK, McDonald’s has free wifi, National Express has free wifi on its East Coast Main Line trains, etcetera).

    So while the USA may be a battleground between the big names in ebook machines, Sony can quite easily steal a march on Amazon in the UK and Europe if it plays its cards right.

  17. I agree with Dan that Sony would probably be better off attempting to dominate the Europe/Japan space and then circle back to the U.S. Still, my earlier suggestions–making it easy (free) for small publishers to participate in Sony Connect, would help them keep at least a share of the market here.

    I think I mentioned that just Wi-Fi, which would eliminate what has to be a significant part of the Kindle’s cost, could be a really significant add-on for the Sony Reader.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher, http://www.BooksForABuck.com

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