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Sony Gets Out of eBooks, Hands Customers to Kobo

Sony’s400px-Sony_Reader_Store_logo.svg_[1] on again off again relationship with ebooks is off once again.

Earlier today Sony announced that they are shutting down the US and Canadian branch of the Sony Reader Store. There’s no news yet on the UK, European, Japanese, or Australian branches, but starting in March Sony’s North American customers will need to find a new place to find a new place to buy ebooks.

Sony is replacing their ebookstore and reading app in the NA market with a newly announced partnership with Kobo. The Kobo Android app will replace Sony’s app on Sony’s tablets and smartphones, and Kobo will also sell ebooks for the Sony Reader. The transition will start in the next few weeks, and by the end of March Sony and Kobo plan to have all Sony customers migrated to the Kobo Store.

Few might remember, but the two companies have worked together in the past. When Sony initially launched the Sony Reader in Australia in September 2010, they did not have an ebookstore. Instead they directed their customers to the Kobo store, which supplied ebooks to Sony Reader owners for a couple years. Sony didn’t launch the Reader Store in Australia until May 2013.


Like the last 2 Sony Readers, the PRS-T3 has an ebookstore on the device. It’s not clear at this time whether that ebookstore will continue to operate or whether owners of the PTS-T3 (and earlier models) will be required to side load all of their ebooks via USB. The press release suggests that users will still be able to buy ebooks from the device, but I am working to confirm that (the FAQ confirms it).

sony readerThe Sony Reader PRS-T3 was never released in the US when it was announced last Fall, but it was released in Canada. That seemed like a strange move at the time but now it would appear that the new arrangement with Kobo might have been in the works at that time.

Sony is not by any stretch of the imagination a major player in the ebook market, but I had thought I understood their interest. I had concluded in May 2013 that Sony’s interest in ebooks matched Apple’s and Samsung’s; all 3 companies were more interested in the hardware the ebooks were read on (tablets and smartphones) and saw the ebooks as a compliment to the gadgets.

This also explained why Sony invested in (limited) Epub3 support in their iPad and iPhone apps, and expanded the Reader Store with a kid’s book section that focused on enhanced ebooks (in Epub3).

Now I don’t know what to think. But that’s okay; I’m not sure that even Sony knows what they plan to do with ebooks next.

P.S. In related news, Sony also recently sold off their PC division to a Japanese investment fund, Japan Industrial Partners (JIP).

image via Engadget

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Peter February 6, 2014 um 2:04 pm

Looking at the dates, maybe Sony decided they just couldn’t be bothered dealing with the latest changes to AdobePub?

Hopefully this will be less of a disaster than last time. Not holding my breath, though.

fjtorres February 6, 2014 um 2:07 pm

Bear in mind that Sony’s credit was recently downgraded to junk.
And their liquid assets have been low for years. They just sold off their PC Business so getting out of ebooks, at best a distraction, is the obvious next step for a company with its back to the wall. No more doodling on the margins for Sony, every business has to pull its weight.
TVs and the studio are probably next.

Sheogorath February 7, 2014 um 6:42 am

I wasn’t aware that Son¥ even made PCs. I thought the only computers they manufactured were Vaio laptops, PlayStation consoles, and Son¥ Ericsson/Xperia phones.

fjtorres February 7, 2014 um 7:05 am

Oh, no, Sony makes all sorts of consumer products; lead acid batteries, cheap transistor radios, earbud headphones, all sorts of blister pack crap, as well as semiconductors, (exploding) laptop batteries, and even chemicals at one point. You can usually find their junk (and Panasonic’s) at dollar stores and fleamarkets.
Sony is a packrat company that has never willingly shut down a money-losing product line; instead, they keep throwing money at it, hoping to revive the zombies, counting on brand loyalty to keep them afloat.
So far, they’ve managed to survive for over a decade of rolling disasters, like the penniless euro aristocrats, off their name and tales of past glories. And uncritical customers who buy into the myth.

Andrew February 6, 2014 um 2:09 pm

Sony’s reader – I have a 650 and a T2 – is the best line around. It handles collections and PDFs better than any other I have seen. (Mind I’m speaking of eink readers, not tablets.) I am sorry to see them apparently leave the market.

Void February 6, 2014 um 5:19 pm

Now where am I supposed to go when my PRS 350 dies? No other company’s e-reader will accept the collections I set up in calibre, and I do not have the time to sit at my reader and manually arrange HUNDREDS of files because of their stupid DRM decisions.

Name Required February 7, 2014 um 2:04 am

Use PocketBook.
Then you can use Calibre to export books to directories according to your Collection tag.

Andrew February 7, 2014 um 9:13 am

Me too. I bought a Kobo Arc 7 to learn to write Android apps, not primarily for reading, and was surprised at how terribly it handles collections. I have almost 50 books purchased through Kobo, a relatively small number, and even organizing that using the arc’s software was painful.

If you have the money, I suggest buying a newer Sony device – they have come down in price, and the new ones (at least the T2) are quite good.

Can anyone recommend a reader that works well with calibre and large collections?

Alexander Inglis February 6, 2014 um 3:21 pm

Sony also announced forecast losses of $1.1B for FY ending Mar 31 2014 this morning and 5000 layoffs as it looks to trim $1.0B in operating costs. In addition to the e-book migration and PC Vaio division sale, it is spinning off its TV manufacturing division no later than July 2014. Sony last turned a profit making TVs in 2004. (!) Its mobile phone division is also struggling. In fact, the only part of the Sony empire doing well is financial services where it drove an $85M profit in the quarter, double YoY rate.

So far, the only companies to make any headway in ebooks are those that both make proprietary hardware and operate an ebookstore. And as we can see, you have to be credible at both parts and look to a global audience. B&N, are you listening?

fjtorres February 6, 2014 um 3:47 pm

Hadn’t heard about the TV division.
Looks like a lot is riding on Spider-Man this summer…

Ebook Bargains UK February 7, 2014 um 5:07 am

The shift away from the US is hardly a surprise. Sony missed the boat first time round and this seems a final coming to terns with the simple reality that Americans have a rather unhealthy love affair with Amazon.

What is of more interest is Sony international ebook stores, which are not, it seems, being closed down. While the North America store has been largely ignored the international stores (or at least Austria, Germany, Australia and Japan – I can’t make head nor tail of the Japanese store) have seen significant upgrades the past year.

With the imminent battle between Tesco/Sainsbury and Amazon there’s not going to be much going for Sony UK this year, but Sony emerged none the worse for wear after the infamous 20p ebooks sale, which cost Amazon millions to price match, and anecdotal evidence suggests Sony is liked in Germany and Austria, where Amazon is losing market share fast (admittedly probably not to Sony).

Selling off the PC business, make sense. PCs are so last century anyway. Sony may not be the powerhouse it once was, but it still has international brand recognition and international reach Amazon can only dream of. It could yet surprise us all.

fjtorres February 7, 2014 um 6:47 am

Sony’s viable assets right now are their name recognition, Playstation empire, Spider-man movie license, and their patent portfolio.
Their liabilities are everything else.
It’s not just the "last century" PC business they are divesting.
They haven’t made money in TVs in a decade, their battery business is more a source of recalls and fires than revenues, their phones and cameras sell at a net loss. The tablets barely register.
Sony is at the point where it is worth more in pieces than as a whole, and most of those pieces just need to be shut down as worthless remnants of an age long gone, but their management and ownership has proven incapable of facing reality. That they keep pumping money into sinkhole businesses like their TVs and, yes, ebooks, is why their credit rating hit rock bottom.
Now their options are to shut down units, sell them off, or pay loan shark rates for the money they fritter away trying to milk the declining number of customers with the "unhealthy love affair" with their brand.

tortillarat February 10, 2014 um 5:04 am

I’m disappointed Sony’s exiting the market. I still have a T1 I’m very happy with. It’s been reliable with no problems, as were the PRS-600 and 700 I had before that. I was really looking forward to their large 13.3″ reader eventually coming here, but with these developments that seems very unlikely.

It’s a shame since they essentially started the market and were one of the more innovative companies at the beginning. They had lighting on the 700 a few years before anyone else was doing it. The 5-inch 300 was one of the first smaller screen readers (and probably the first mainstream one). They had built-in dictionaries in both English and other languages before everyone else and were among the first to introduce touch screens. Even now the ability to take notes in-text either through a keypad or stylus isn’t as widespread as you’d expect. Compatibility with multiple formats and the ability to buy from virtually any non-Amazon e-book store were some of the earlier selling points. I vaguely remember them having e-library connectivity before most others, along with being among the first to offer e-newspaper subscriptions (the WSJ was Sony-exclusive for awhile).

Then with the T-series they just gave up. As much as I like the T1, it’s really not much of a step up from the 650. It’s debatable whether the subsequent T2 and T3 had anything new to offer at all. That 13.3″ reader has hints of their earlier innovation in the market (and would probably kill off Amazon’s now-ancient DX), but again it seems unlikely we’ll ever see it here.

I’m not sad to see their e-book store go; it was always overpriced and its software was never good (to put it mildly). Nevertheless it signifies they won’t be coming back soon, if at all, which is a blow to those of us who like their devices.

Gary March 27, 2014 um 1:23 pm

I just got an email with instruction on how to migrate my Sony eBooks to Kobo.

The process was easy and went well.

38 of 41 books in my Sony collection transferred to Kobo automatically. 3 eBooks failed to transfer. The stated reason for the failure to transfer these 3 eBooks is "because they’re not available in the Kobo Store."

Of the 3 books that did not transfer, 2 are available for me to purchase from Kobo. Granted, the Kobo eBooks may be different editions or they may have different geographic restrictions on them.

I talked to Kobo’s help desk, but they were not able to match the two Sony eBooks to the two existing Kobo eBooks manually. If the automatic matching fails there is no other way to do get the books into my Kobo library..

Kobo’s help desk suggested that I make sure to download the books to my computer while I can still access them at the Sony web site. Of course I did that when the news first broke that the Sony store was closing.

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