In a move that could only be characterized as surprising, Sony announced last week that it was going to be using the open ePub eBook standard, which in theory should enable Sony Reader users to access and use any books created around the standard. Sony Readers will also be able to read Adobe PDFs and Adobe eBooks, both of which come with Adobe DRM. It's a complex announcement, but one thing is clear, Sony has laid down the gauntlet with Amazon, leaving it as the lone major proprietary reader. But is Amazon too big to care?
The Amazon eBook Erase Debacle
A couple of weeks ago I reported here in the post, Amazon Shows a Need for eBook Standards, what happens when one company controls both the device and the books you read on the device. In this particular case, Amazon determined that copies of 1984 and Animal Farm were illegal and simply removed them from owners' devices without warning. As you can imagine, it set off a firestorm of protest, but it also highlighted the need for standards. If users had been able to back up their copies and read them on any device, then it would likely have diminished Amazon's power to change or remove content from people's devices.
As I wrote at the time:
"The trouble with the Kindle approach is that Amazon is selling the Reader and they are selling eBooks, which can be read only on their readers and nobody else's, and that's where this problem lies."
Is Amazon too Big to Care?
Peter Kafka reports this week that a new survey suggests there could be as many as 10 million Kindle owners soon. That's a lot of market clout and it's just for starters as its market will probably only continue to grow, especially if they continue to drop the price as they did earlier this year. If Amazon's market share continues to grow, it may not care if it gets criticism from the likes of bloggers like me. As long as they make money, the business model continues, and right now for them all proprietary, all the time works.
It Will Take Consumer Pressure
Oprah started this whole Kindle bandwagon. Before she discovered and promoted it on her show, the Kindle was used by a few geeks. Maybe it's time for Oprah to use her clout to pressure Amazon to use open standards for its eBooks (if she cares or has any clue what that means). If we can't count on Oprah, we always have the power of social media and 10 million people (or at least say 10 percent of them) pressuring Amazon to open up, which could have some significant influence. Amazon has been shown it caves to pressure in the past.
Sony's decision to move forward with an open standard is significant and I for one applaud them for taking this step. I only hope that consumers can mount enough pressure to force Amazon to follow suit and dilute the power it holds by controlling both the books and the device.