It's official: Sony is (mostly) getting out of ebooks.
Following just over a month after shutting down the NA branch of the Sony Reader Store, Sony is now shutting down the Reader Stores in Australia, Germany, the UK, and Austria. The stores will close by 16 June, and any existing customers will be invited to join their fellow ex-Reader Store customers and transfer their accounts to Kobo.
Oddly enough the Sony Reader Store in Japan has survived the extinction, or at least there is no notice on that site announcing the closure. Given that that site added features only a couple months ago I am not surprised it remains unaffected.
Having launched the Data Discman in the year 1990, Sony has a long and storied history with ebooks. This Japanese tech giant was one of the first companies to enter the commercial ebook market close to 3 decades ago, a market which for most of the 1990s it shared with very few companies. And with the US launch of the Sony Reader in 2006, Sony was the first company to enter the third wave of ebooks, preceding the launch of the Kindle by over a year.
You would think that Sony was poised to be a major player in ebooks, but that never happened. While Sony put a lot of work into developing beautiful ebook readers, they neglected to put equal work into their ebookstore or platform. The support software was terrible until well into 2010, and even as far back the PRS-500, some of the Sony Readers' best features were the work of 3rd-party hackers, not Sony.
And even at its height, the Sony Reader Store only operated in 7 countries. That's not a sign of great interest or investment on the part of Sony.
Over the next few weeks Sony should be sending out an email to their customers with instructions for switching over to Kobo. For more details, visit the Reader Store help page.
As part of the hand over to Kobo, Sony will be releasing updates for the Sony Readers. These update will enable Sony Reader owners to buy ebooks from Kobo from the device. The first update was released in late March, but since it only cut the connections to the Sony Reader Store there is little reason to install it. A second update is in the works which will add the ability to sync purchases with Kobo, and it is expected to be released in late May 2014.
On a related note, it's not clear how this update will affect customers in other markets where Sony never launched a Sony Reader Store. For example, Sony is selling the Sony Reader PRS-T3 in Spain and France even though they never opened a branch of the Reader Store in those countries. This update also offers no clue as to whether Sony will release a new ereader this year or next, but I don't think that will be happening.