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Google Aids Sony in Fight Against Amazon Kindle

Sony e-book Reader PRS-505
Sony's PRS-505 e-book reader
Source: Sony. Click to enlarge.

The battle between Sony's and Amazon's e-book readers is heating up now that Google is stepping in to throw some new kindling on the fire.

The search leader said it plans to make half a million of its digital books available for free on Sony's Reader devices -- a potential blow to Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), which has created a brisk business around its own e-reader, the Kindle.

The move marks the first time Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has made its collection of scanned, public domain books available and optimized for an e-reader. It also means Sony's (NYSE: SNE) available digital library now numbers around 600,000 titles, which puts it above Amazon's Kindle-compatible library of about 245,000 titles.

For Sony, the Google announcement signals that the electronics giant is not content to stay in second place and is stepping up to take on Kindle. While the recent launch of Amazon's second-generation Kindle 2 grabbed headlines -- CEO Jeff Bezos even went on the talk show circuit to tout it -- Sony has quietly been selling two versions of its Reader since 2006.

With the Google deal in place, fans of the Sony Reader will have new reasons to crow. At Sony's eBook store, a link on the front page now leads to the books from Google, which people can transfer to their PRS-505 or PRS-700 Reader at no cost. The process is seamless for Reader owners who have an account at the store, according to the company, while those new to the store will need to set up an account and download Sony's free eBook Library software.

Meanwhile, Amazon's next steps remain up in the air. A spokesperson for the e-tail giant said Amazon does not comment on other companies.

Google, meanwhile, said the deal furthers its own efforts to find new distribution channels for content available via its Google Book Search.

"We founded Google Book Search on the premise that anyone, anywhere, anytime should have the tools to explore the great works of history and culture, and not just when they happen to be at a computer," Adam Smith, Google's product management director, said in a statement. "We believe in an open platform for accessing and reading books, and we're excited to partner with Sony to help bring these public domain books to more people."

Google also said it sees opportunity in e-reading capabilities as well, and has said it would make its public domain titles at its Book Search service available on smartphones, including the Android-based G1, the Apple iPhone and certain Nokia devices.

Kindle vs. Sony Reader: The fight continues

Despite this week's developments, the battle is far from over between Amazon and Sony. Tim Bajarin, Creative Strategies' president and principal analyst, agreed that the Google partnership will generate buzz for Sony, but said that both companies have more work ahead of them in getting more digitized material.

"This should help Sony get more people interested in their reader, as they now have a vast new library of books or e-content available for their solution," Bajarin said. "However, the thing that really is important in the battle between Amazon and Sony is the amount of commercial books available to potential readers."

"Both are aggressively working with commercial publishers to get them to support their formats and readers, and this will drive healthy competition between these two and others who plan to bring out new book readers in the future," he added.

For now, though, Bajarin told InternetNews.com that Amazon is still positioned to be the pioneer in profiting from the digital book market, due to its wireless e-commerce and synchronizing features, and its new iPhone app.

"At the moment, even with this vast new content available from Google for the Sony platform, Amazon's wireless WhisperNet technology gives them the edge since it allows readers to buy books anytime and anywhere they happen to be," he said.

Whispersync technology saves and synchronizes a customer's bookmark across their original Kindle, Kindle 2, iPhone and iPod touch, so customers always have their reading with them and never lose their place.

"But keep in mind, while the Kindle is an important device for Amazon to display books for reading, Amazon's business is to be an e-book distributor," Bajarin said. "This became clear when they created a Kindle store app for the iPhone and turned the iPhone into an Amazon book reader as well."

Bajarin added that though Sony is a worthy competitor, Amazon is still in a better position to drive the market for e-books because of its current relationships with commercial publishers as well as its reach beyond a single book reader, which helps the company extend its role as an e-book distributor.