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Amazon, Open Your eBooks or Watch Out

Hardly a day went by this week without a major new announcement in the eBook and eReader arena. The wireless eReaders from Sony and the Irex/Barnes & Noble partnership were probably some of the most interesting announcements. In addition, Google also opened up its EPUB archive, which will give readers easy access to over 1 million free public-domain books for their eReaders. The only company that didn’t have anything to announce this week was Amazon, which is now in danger of losing its early lead to Sony and Barnes & Noble.

Before this week, Amazon’s Kindle still had one major advantage: wireless syncing. Now that both Sony and Barnes & Noble will offer the same functionality before the holiday season, the eBook market is once again completely open.

Everybody Now Offers Wireless Syncing

While wireless syncing and book delivery may not be that important to every potential eReader user, it did give Amazon a major leg up in marketing its Kindle and Kindle DX. In a month or two, this advantage will be gone. Amazon’s competitors also offer more stylish devices, and some of the upcoming new eReaders will also offer touch screens – another feature that Amazon’s Kindle doesn’t currently offer.

EBook Price is Now the Same Everywhere, But Sony Supports Downloads From Local Library

In terms of pricing, Sony will soon offer an eReader for $199, which will put a lot of pressure on Amazon – though Sony’s cheapest device will not offer wireless capabilities. As for books, prices everywhere are converging around a reasonable $9.99, the price Amazon pioneered as the default price for bestsellers in its Kindle store.

What’s even more exciting is that eReader users will soon be able to borrow eBooks from their local libraries. Sony just announced a partnership with OverDrive, which supplies eBook technology to over 9,000 libraries. Amazon doesn’t offer a similar program (yet).

Amazon’s Problem: The Kindle is Closed

What’s giving Amazon’s competitors a major advantage right now is that their devices are far more open than the Kindle. As Slate’s Farhad Manjoo points out, Sony and company could still be far more open and do away with all copyright restrictions. But at least you will be able to move your books to different devices, even though Sony still uses the standard EPUB format with a DRM wrapper, for example. Amazon’s proprietary format, on the other hand, doesn’t allow you to move your Kindle eBook to your new Sony Reader, for example.

For now, most publishers are still wary about releasing books without copyright DRM. We can only assume that the book publishing industry will go through a similar cycle as the music industry, however, and that DRMed eBooks will also go the way of DRMed MP3s.

The eBook market is still young. For now, Amazon’s only other advantage over its competitors is that it currently has a lot of momentum among early adopters. But, as Forrester Research’s Sarah Rotman Epps argued in a recent report, as eBooks move into the mainstream, late adopters may not feel the same loyalty towards Amazon that early adopters had.

Of course, Amazon could still come out with a new eReader and a more open strategy. But for now, it doesn’t look like Amazon is planning to change its strategy anytime soon, and we haven’t heard any news (or even rumors) of a new Kindle for quite a while. If Amazon doesn’t watch out, it could soon be left behind, because other eBook vendors and hardware manufacturers offer a more open and attractive platform for publishers and users.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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