Sony Moves to Woo E-Book Publishers, Authors

In its latest push into the burgeoning e-reader market, Sony today unveiled a new portal for aspiring authors who want to publish titles for the electronics giant’s e-book store.

Online publishing firms Author Solutions and Smashwords are also partnering with Sony to give independent authors and small publishers the opportunity to offer content at The eBook Store from Sony.

“We’re committed to providing our customers access to the broadest range of e-book content available and believe these collaborations will allow us to expand the store selection with a host of compelling works from independent sources,” Chris Smythe, director of the eBook Store from Sony, said in a statement. “Additionally, we recognize that it is important to provide independent authors and publishers the opportunity to quickly and easily bring their ideas and content to a wide audience of readers.”

The effort hinges on Sony’s Publisher Portal. Using the site, new authors can select a self-publishing path and get their work published and for sale on Sony’s eBook Store in as little as 10 days, according to the company.

As Sony completes the conversion of its e-book store to the industry-standard EPUB format, Smashwords and Authors Solution will help their existing authors get their titles up on the Sony site.

The firms will offer authors the option to publish content in the EPUB format, which is the International Digital Publishing Forum’s (IDPF) XML-based standard format for reflowable digital books and publications. EPUB has gained acceptance among major trade book publishers with dozens of publishers already producing the majority of their e-books using the standard. Sony recently announced that the company is transitioning its content library to the EPUB format.

“We’re thrilled to help power the new Sony Publisher Portal,” Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, a publisher and distributor of multi-format e-books, said in a statement. “The free Smashwords service makes it easy for any author or publisher to distribute their e-books via the eBook Store from Sony. Authors and publishers simply upload their manuscript to Smashwords as a Microsoft Word document, select the price, and then we manage the conversion and distribution.”

Sony’s revamped portal comes as the budding digital book market is slated for significant growth. Worldwide e-reader shipments for 2008 totaled 1 million, but should grow to 30 million by 2013, according to In-Stat, while iSuppli estimates 18 million device sales by 2012.

Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps has lower estimates, but they’re still healthy projections: From 1 million e-readers were sold in the U. S. through the end of last year — with Amazon’s Kindle representing 60 percent, and Sony e-reader devices accounting for the remained — she sees overall sales growing to 13 million by 2013.

Such predictions have prompted a slew of new competitors to enter the fray in a bid to take on frontrunner Amazon and its popular Kindle family of wireless e-readers.

Sony, meanwhile, has renewed its efforts in the digital book sector, with the introduction of its first wireless e-reader, the $399 Daily Edition with a 7-inch touchscreen. The model is set to go on sale in December.

It also just launched several other models at lower price points — the $299 Touch Edition, with a 6-inch screen, and the Pocket Edition, with a 5-inch screen and a price tag of $199.

The Daily Edition will arrive on the market before the e-reader from hardware vendor Plastic Logic, which is debuting a device in partnership with Barnes & Noble in early 2010. That touchscreen device will be about the size of a sheet of paper, run on AT&T’s network while supporting Wi-Fi, and will be primarily targeted at business users.

There’s also another touchscreen wireless e-reader, that, like Sony’s Daily Edition supports the EPUB format. iRex Technologies, a spin-off from Royal Philips Electronics that already sells a popular e-reader in European markets, plans to launch the

The iRex DR800SG next month.

The unit sports several features the popular Amazon Kindle doesn’t: an 8.1-inch touchscreen, the ability to connect to the Internet overseas and support for open digital book formats. It will also launch with the B&N eBookstore pre-installed.

iRex also has something of a pedigree in the field, having worked with Sony to launch one of the first e-reader devices, the Librie, in 2004.

There’s also two e-readers in the works from Taiwan-based PC hardware maker Asus, which shook up the computer market by popularizing the low-cost netbook form factor.

In addition to a $160 budget device, dubbed the Eee Reader, Asus is also expected to release a more expensive, color-screen model featuring a hinged spine that opens like a book.

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