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Sony embraces ePub for eBooks

No-one should go it alone, except Amazon

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Sony has announced it will be adopting the ePub standard as its only format for electronic books, along with DRM from Adobe, in its continuing battle against Amazon's Kindle platform.

Sony runs a book store with protected content for its range of electronic-ink-based readers, and recently added half a million public-domain titles with the help of Google, but purchased books come in a proprietary format and can't be moved between reading devices, a limitation that should change once this transition is completed.

Electronic book readers are often tied to specific book stores, with exactly the kind of DRM that proved unacceptable on digital music. Companies such as Amazon are using hardware to bring customers to their book store, in the hope that once there they'll decide to hang around and spend more money. The creation of Kindle applications for the iPhone, and other platforms, demonstrates how Amazon is interested in selling books rather than devices.

Electronic book piracy is already rampant, with all but the most successful authors unable to afford the constant monitoring that's needed to protect their work, and the consequences are arguably worse than for the music industry: book readers aren't going to pay to attend live readings, or buy t-shirts from their favourite authors, so selling books is the only revenue stream most authors have.

Sony will be using Adobe Content Server 4 (ACS4) to protect content coming from the Sony book store, which will all be in ePub format by the end of the year.

Some platforms, such as Mobipocket, already allow users to securely copy content between devices, though since it was bought by Amazon the development of Mobipocket has been severally curtailed and fans fear for the future of the platform when Kindle is such an obvious competitor.

Just like consumers of music, those reading books will want to be able to copy content between devices - your correspondent started War & Peace on a Newton, and just finished it on an iRex D1000S, with uncountable devices in between - so standards in terms of format are essential as well as software that's happy to ease the transition.

Sony's announcement means their e-book store will be able to provide content for competitors' hardware, which could be a good move if the future really is in services rather than devices. ®

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