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Sony Pushes Common E-Book Format to Out-Fox Apple

Word is that Sony's due to make an interesting announcement today—it'll be adopting the ePub format exclusively on its electronic book readers. Why such a public push for a DRM'd open-source format? To beat Apple.

Sony Reader

It's also a move to beat Amazon, whose Kindle devices are apparently selling well (though Amazon is secretive about actual sales figures). Amazon also uses a proprietary format that ties them to the Kindle or the iPhone Kindle app—a format which has recently gotten them into public-relations trouble. On the other hand, Sony's support of ePub is interesting, given the company's long woeful history of using awkward proprietary formats for its devices. So this is really a score for the open-source world though ePub supports DRM, it's actually an open format developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum which includes input from publishers like Random House and HarperCollins.

But while Sony tries to tackle Amazon, the Kindle is currently restricted to the U.S. and its about to be overtaken by other e-readers with superior tech—like Plastic Logic's device, which also supports ePub. And Sony's real target is, of course, Apple. That's thanks to rumors about the company entering the e-book game and strong indications its about to change the PC notebook marketplace with an iPhone-esque tablet PC. Any move by Apple to enter the electronic book publishing business would most likely happen via iTunes, since it's been so successful as the ecosytem that keeps iPhones working and full of content. And it may well involve a proprietary file format that could tie published content to Apple machines—we know Apple's more than happy to do that, given its maneuvers to shut out the Palm Pre syncing with iTunes.

Basically if Apple's mythical tablet sells as well as the iPhone, and generates as much public buzz, then Apple could very easily sew-up the e-book game across the world, much as it's doing for MP3 sales. By pushing ePub as a common format before the iTablet hits, Sony's trying to avoid this. Will this strategy work? No one can tell...but given Apple's huge momentum, I suspect not.

[via The New York Times]