Sony's Bookish Turn

Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) has had its eye on bibliophiles for quite some time, but its efforts are just now ramping up in earnest. The electronics company announced that its online Sony Connect store will provide a wide variety of books from top publishers for storage in its new Sony Reader device.

Sony has deals with the top six publishers, including News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) HarperCollins and CBS's (NYSE: CBS  ) Simon & Schuster, to offer 10,000 books through Sony Connect. On average, the books will cost 25% less than their old-fashioned paper counterparts. In another interesting aside, the Sony Connect service and Sony Reader will allow folks to read some of their favorite blogs, since users will have the ability to add RSS feeds to their device (as well as import their own files, like Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF files).

Buzz about the Sony Reader started in earnest last winter. The device allows users to download e-books and read them, ostensibly in a way that's closer to reading an actual book than your average glaring laptop screen. (Granted, you can't fold down the pages or mark up your text.) A little later, Sony said that it would distribute the device not only in its own stores, but also in select Borders (NYSE: BGP  ) locations.

When I heard that (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) was planning a digital media device to take on Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPod, of course, my first thought was how a really killer device on Amazon's part would tackle both music and e-books. Longtime Fool Rick Munarriz recently discussed the market for digital books (and digital book readers), and pointed out that technology site Engadget had broken a story about a possible Amazon gadget and service called Amazon Kindle -- one that apparently does incorporate digital books.

Need more related competition? Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) recently upped the ante in digitizing books by offering certain books in the public domain through its search product, allowing people to read and electronically search the text of the books and even print PDFs of them. (As I learned after writing about Google's move into digital distribution of print publications in the public domain, the Web's Project Gutenberg has been doing likewise for years now.)

CNET pointed out that Sony was delayed in getting its e-book initiatives on the shelf, since the device was supposed to debut in the spring. (Delays at Sony seem to be par for the course lately -- just consider the issues with PlayStation 3.) My first impression of the Sony reader was that it might only help Sony a little bit, depending on consumer response, since e-book devices and services remain a largely untested space. At least the company is trying something new, though, instead of following a rival's lead. Sony's early start in getting the Reader to market remains commendable, but an even earlier launch would have been better. With big-time competition now appearing imminent, the Sony Reader's prospects may be dimmer than they seemed last year.

Further Foolish reading: is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation. To find out what other companies David and Tom Gardner have recommended to subscribers, click here for a 30-day free trial.

Alyce Lomaxdoes not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. CNET is a Rule Breakers pick, while Microsoft is an Inside Value selection. The Fool'sdisclosure policy is a page-turner.

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