The Kindle, however, is tethered to Amazon.com, supporting only what's available through the retailer.
Sony Reader Digital Book (click for larger image)
Sony on Thursday released a software upgrade that opens up the company's e-book reading device to online stores other than its own.
The move is expected to increase the number electronic books available for Sony's Reader, which only supported the 45,000 books Sony had in its library. By comparison, Amazon.com's competing Kindle could download 140,000 e-books available through the online retailer.
The Kindle, however, is tethered to Amazon.com, supporting only what's available through the retailer. In opening up its Reader, Sony could be marking the beginning of more openness in the young e-book market.
Reader owners can download the software upgrade immediately from Sony's support Web site. Starting next month, new Readers will have the software preinstalled.
In opening up the Reader, Sony chose to support the EPUB format backed by the International Digital Publishing Forum, an e-book publishing trade group whose supporters include Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group, HarperMedia, Hachette Book Group, HarperMedia, and Harlequin Enterprises.
In addition, the device will support Adobe Digital Editions software, which makes it possible to read copyright-protected PDF files. The software is available for free download through Adobe. The Reader also will continue to support the BBeB format used by Sony's eBook Store.
Sony said it would consider support for other formats to widen the variety of content available for its device. "This upgrade opens the door to a whole host of paid and free content from third party e-book stores, Web sites and even public libraries," Steve Haber, senior VP of consumer product marketing for Sony, said in a statement.
Sony sells the device for about $300, while Amazon offers the Kindle for $359. Amazon, however, makes it easy for publishers and individuals to make their books available, taking 65% of the proceeds. The online retailer also includes wireless support in the Kindle for access to Amazon over a cellular network at no additional charge. Both devices weigh less than a pound, are very thin, and have 6-inch displays.
Amazon and Sony do not release sales figures for their readers, but analysts say the market today is very small. Nevertheless, it does show signs of taking off.
Worldwide shipments of e-book displays are expected to increase to 18.3 million units in 2012, a 161% compound annual growth rate from 150,000 units in 2007, according to market researcher iSuppli. Revenue is forecast to reach $291.2 million during the same timeframe from $3.5 million, a CAGR of 143%.
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