Monday, March 23, 2009

The SAG (Sony, Amazon, Google) Wars

Last week Sony and Google announced their eBook agreement.  Under the agreement,  Google Book Search is making 500,000 public domain books available to Sony eReader owners.  All of these titles are in the public domain, meaning that the copyright on the book has expired.

sony google

I am a little puzzled as to what the big deal is.  After all, a 100,000 or so of these titles are already available through Project Gutenberg in text or html format that can be ready by pretty much anyone.

Perhaps the big deal is simply that Sony can now say that they have more eBook titles than Amazon.  After all, the Amazon Kindle now only has 250,000 titles available.  Lots of books are a good idea, but just exactly what are they?  For fun, I checked out some of the new titles:

  • Explorations of the Highlands of the Brazil By Richard Francis Burton
  • The English Dairy Farmer, 1500-1900 By George Edwin Fussell
  • Quinquennial catalogue of the Dental School of Harvard University, 1869-1900 By Dental School, Harvard University
  • Vivisection By United States, District of Columbia, Senate, Congress
  • Alphabetical List of Battles, 1754-1900 By Newton Allen Strait

I don't know about you, but these will not be on my reading list anytime soon.  Admittedly there is some great, classic and readable literature in the public domain.  Some of my favorite titles as a little girl like Pollyanna or Little Women and still current favorite authors like Jane Austin, Jules Verne, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. But good literature is only a small percentage of the 500,000 titles. Much of this work is heavy duty academic tomes and historical artifacts that are of limited interest to the general reading public.  Quantity is one thing, quality and desirability are another!

I keep wondering why Sony thinks this partnership with Google is a good idea for them?   Yes. they become bigger than Amazon but at what price? They are giving Google a huge boost and while it may  derail the Kindle in the short run, but they are probably hastening the demise of their reader in the long run.

Google is obviously setting the stage for online books.  Books that make proprietary readers unnecessary.  Their goal is to render all eBook readers as interesting artifacts. 

Maybe the answer is that Sony and Google are hoping to create an iTunes-like store with content for eBook readers.  The problem of course is that ultimately the iPhone or something like it will make the eBook reader an interesting artifact without any help from Google at all.

It is fascinating to watch the anti-evolutionary forces in the eBook market join forces to release books from Darwin's period and call it progress.

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