Sony, B&N promise to rekindle rights for book owners

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I recently talked to Sony's Steve Haber, President of Digital Reading, about its flagship ebook reader. Named the "Daily Edition," it hits stores next month. Notwithstanding differences between each manufacturer's respective libraries, it offers all the best features of its main rival, the Kindle. But Sony says it offers one thing that Amazon won't: actual ownership of your books.

"Our commitment is that you bought it, you own it," Haber said. "Our hope is to see this as ubiquitous. Buy on any device, read on any device. ... We're obligated to have DRM but we don't pull content back."

Sony's adopting the ePub open file format and encouraging DRM-insistent publishers to offer files that use a less restrictive scheme from Adobe. In doing so, Haber suggested that the worst case scenario would be 12 devices per account, effectively "books uncoupled from hardware."

Ebooks can also be digitally "loaned" free of charge for up to 21 days, from participating libraries. This works thought a deal with Overdrive, which facilitates such loans by backing them with hard copies.

Sony's new reader also features a 9" display, page-changing swipe gestures, annotations and a cellular connection to download new titles on the go. At $400, however, it's as pricey as the top-of-the-line Kindle DX that it resembles; Sony already has a new generation of cheaper e-readers out which lack the fancy features and big screen.

Barnes and Noble announced its own reader, the Nook, a few weeks ago. At $260, it's competitively priced and has a secondary LCD display. It also focuses hard on consumer-friendly features that Amazon seems unwilling to indulge: in its case, books can be shared between devices and even with friends. Not all books will be available, and shares are limited to 14 days at a time.

Without solid co-operation from publishers, Sony's adoption of ePub and B&N's sharing feature won't make much of an impact: what use are they if bestsellers aren't included? When the new devices appear and their associated stores are ramped up, we'll get to find out if the proposed changes make a difference--and whether Amazon can be reeled in.