Sony Reader's Edge: Free Books

This morning Sony added to its line of ebook readers with a 7-inch touchscreen device they're calling the Sony Reader Daily Edition. At an announcement at the New York Public Library on 42nd street, Steve Haber, president of Sony's Digital Reading Business Division, presented the reader as a more open alternative to Amazon's Kindle, with just as many great specs. Its added benefit, however, is access to millions of free books via two services: Google Books, which is actively scanning out-of-print titles, and various public library partners which are undertaking efforts to digitize their collections.

Sony Reader

Sony's big bet is on an open-access content model that doesn't require Reader owners to purchase every book they load onto their device. (Though the device will still connect to Sony's ebook store.) On hand was New York Public Library President and CEO Paul LeClerc, who touted the library's partnership with Sony and the value of free access to ebooks. "It's a central aspect of this library's work," he said of Sony's free model, noting that the NYPL circulates electronic copies of books for free via its Web site. Using the Sony Reader Daily Edition, users will be able to check out books from the NYPL as well as their local libraries; punch in your Zip code on Sony's desktop software, and you can see libraries near you and check out their titles over 3G wireless networking. Checked-out books expire after 21 days and disappear from the device. The library-search feature for free titles will be powered by OverDrive.

Sony Reader Daily Edition

Sony also unveiled new desktop software--for both Mac and PC--to support the Daily Edition reader. In addition to serving as a search and download point for ebook titles both for purchase and for free, the software will serve as a repository for notes and marginalia taken on the device, which can be printed out from a computer. Sony uses Adobe DRM on its books, which it sells for $9.99 each. (Below, Haber demonstrating the device at the New York Public Library.)

Steve Haber

The Daily Edition will retain the ability to load Word documents and PDFs, and uses the same E-Ink screen as its siblings. It will be available at over 8500 retail locations come December at $399.

Sony also unveiled something called Words Move Me, a kind of Twitter for book quotations beloved by Reader owners. The site is plastered with Sony Reader branding and advertising, making it something of a PR stunt; it doesn't let you post from anywhere but Sony's site, and it runs slow to boot. But it indicates that Sony is serious about ebook-lovers as a viable community of customers that deserve more thought and courting.

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