Sony Adopts Open (But Still DRMed) Format for eBooks

In a move that took most industry pundits by surprise, Sony today announced that it will adopt the open ePub standard as the default format for books in its eBook store by the end of the year. EPub is an XML-based standard for publishing eBooks that has been adopted by a wide variety of hardware manufacturers, publishers, and retailers – with the notable exception of Amazon and it’s Kindle store and eBook reader. Thanks to this, even owners of non-Sony eReaders will soon be able to read books they have bought in Sony’s store. It is important to note, however, that adopting this open format doesn’t mean that all the books in Sony’s store will now be DRM-free.

Adobe DRM

While it isn’t quite clear what the specifics of Sony’s DRM scheme will look like, the company did announce that it will use Adobe’s Content Server to power its DRM solution. Adobe’s server relies on a proprietary DRM solution. EPub is a very flexible format and allows developers to put a DRM-wrapper around eBooks. Publishers won’t have to wrap DRM around their offerings. However, it is unlikely that a lot of book publishers (who are just as fearful of piracy as most music executives) will be able to resist this. In effect, this gives Adobe a lot of power in the eBook industry, as our friends at TeleRead point out in more detail.

Opening up the Store

Still, Sony should be lauded for adopting the ePub format and making its eBook store compatible with more devices from more manufacturers. All of Sony’s eReaders, including the first-generation PRS-500, will be able to read these books, but what is far more important is that users will not be locked into having to buy a Sony device just to make use of the Sony eBook store. In addition, as other publishers adopt this format, Sony’s own Reader will also be able to access books from a wider variety of stores.

Sony is clearly taking the eBook market very seriously. Just last week, it brought the prices for most of the books in its store down to $9.99 and announced two new eBook readers that look very promising.

Will Amazon React?

The question now, of course, is how Amazon will react to this. Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem is almost completely closed – starting with the proprietary eBook format up to the Kindle’s inability to display ePub-formatted books. In the press release, Steve Haber, the president of Sony’s Digital Reading Business Division, argues that ePub is “quickly becoming the de facto standard for eBooks.” If that is indeed the case, Amazon will have to adapt quickly if it doesn’t want to be left behind.

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