The Second Front

Sony unveiled a new e-reader this morning. Here’s the lede from the L.A. Times:

Sony this morning unveiled its answer to the Kindle 2 — a wireless electronic book reader with a 7-inch touch screen that’s 17% larger than Amazon’s device.

The fact that basic specs of the new reader are defined not in terms of utility but rather competitive advantage tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in the e-reader arms race. A serious fight is on to see who produce the dominant reader, just as the fight is on to see who will become the dominant content provider for those devices.

Note also, however, that the two fronts in this global war to control the portable text industry are already deeply enmeshed:

Sony’s Readers have another feature that’s not present in the Kindle: All of the devices are capable of displaying digital books that have been borrowed from thousands of public libraries that lend electronic books. The Daily Edition goes one step further by finding local libraries with a digital-books collection and letting users wirelessly download the book for 21 days (provided they have a library card for that particular branch).

The machines enable delivery of more content: demand for more content drives sales of the machines. At some point in the not-to-distant future, this simmering symbiosis — backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing campaigns — is going to explode onto popular culture.

Which explains why Google is not simply trying to become the dominant content provider, but why they’ve also allied themselves with Sony, against the Amazon/Microsoft cabal. From Bloomberg:

In March, Sony gained access to more than 500,000 e-book titles for its readers through an agreement with Google Inc. The deal expanded Sony’s e-book store to about 1 million titles at the end of last month, compared with the more than 320,000 offers.

Sony gets content for its e-reader: Google gets a friendly device manufacturer for its content delivery system.

It’s going to be very hard to bet against a Google/Sony alliance, even against the combined might of Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo and others. More on this here. (That link is to a article, because “the new Daily Edition comes bundled with Sony’s eBook Library software 3.0, which is newly Mac-compatible” [emphasis mine]. Whether Apple is thinking about getting into the device business as well — iBook II anyone? — or whether they’re simply throwing their lot in against Microsoft is anyone’s guess. But that Apple seems to be on the sidelines should not be taken to mean that Apple is on the sidelines.)

— Mark Barrett

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