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Sony's Digital Book Downloads from the Public Library

Posted by: Jay Greene on November 17, 2009

My 11-year-old son had a dilemma last night. He had zipped through the first two books in the Twilight series and was keen to start on the third, Eclipse. But the book my wife quickly picked up at the library was in Spanish. Oops.

So we tried an experiment. Two weeks ago, I won a Sony Reader Pocket Edition in a raffle. It’s a slim gadget with a 5-inch screen, the electronics giant’s answer to the Amazon Kindle. I futzed with it a bit since I got it, but really hadn’t put it through its paces.

Last night was my son’s turn. One of the neat features of the Sony Reader is that you can “borrow” electronic books from participating libraries, including ones in New York, Chicago and my public library in Seattle. So I went to digital media page on its Web site and searched for Eclipse. It turns out that six of the library’s eight copies of the book in Adobe’s eBook format, which works with Sony’s eBook devices, were available to borrow for 21 days. I typed in my library card number and PIN, clicked download, and a few seconds later, the book was on my PC. Then, I connected the Sony Reader via the USB port and the book zipped over to my device.

My Pocket Edition version is the least expensive of the Sony Readers, priced at $199. Sony has one other Reader on the market now, the $299 Touch Edition, a 6-inch touch-screen model. And on Dec. 18 it will launch the $399 Daily Edition, a 7-inch touch-screen version with 3G connectivity, so users can download books without having to plug the device into their PCs.

Earlier in the day, I met with Steve Haber, the president of Sony’s digital reading division, who was on a press swing through Seattle. The point he harped on more than any other was the access to books that the Sony device offers. “It’s not a closed business model,” Haber says, without mentioning the Kindle, which doesn’t offer the same library content. When I asked Haber where he thought the next breakthroughs for the device would be, he stayed on message. “We want to innovate to get better and better access to content,” Haber says. Reader owners can already buy electronic books from 200 bookstores, including big chains such as Borders and independent booksellers such as the terrific Powell’s Books in Portland, as well as Sony's eBook Store.

I don’t know how important those booksellers will be to the success of the Sony Reader. The Kindle has mindshare as well as market share. But the opportunity to instantly get a book from the library at 8 pm so my 11-year-old could have something to read before bed was pretty nifty. And it didn’t cost me a dime.

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Reader Comments

Janice Laubenstein

November 18, 2009 10:15 AM

Thanks Jay, for the input! I find it very very easy to download to the Sony. It turns out we are in a "greyer" area for WhisperNet reception for our Kindle and it takes a LONG LONG time to download. For that reason alone, I love the Sony e-reader.

Nikos Megapanos

November 19, 2009 06:17 AM

Great story. Just one question: the library has only six copies of an ebook? How does that make any sense?

Nikos Megapanos

November 19, 2009 06:17 AM

Great story. Just one question: the library has only six copies of an ebook? How does that make any sense?


November 19, 2009 08:16 AM

I have been trying for days and days to get a book moved from a library or igoogle books and just can't get it to work. I tried donwloading the software and still no luck.
Where are directions I could use?

Jay Greene

November 19, 2009 09:54 AM

Nikos, it's a good question and one I didn't really answer in the post. Libraries buy digital books the same way they buy bound copies. Though publishers could give them license to lend the digital versions infinitely, it wouldn't make financial sense for them to do so. That's why each libraries' number of copies is limited.
And Angela, without knowing the specific details of your problem, it's hard for me to offer a solution. I'd suggest contacting Sony's customer support here: Good luck.


November 19, 2009 11:54 AM

Is it lighted? I would like to read in bed at night without turning on a light. I've read that the Kindle is not backlit. Is this device backlit?


November 25, 2009 02:38 PM

Great article. I love the opportunity to download from the library. I hope more and more libraries around the country will join this program.

On the business arena, this could actually mean a real chance for Sony to get some significant traction for its e-reader and steal a chuck of market share from Amazon...And that could mean good news for the consumers!!

L. Bracken

January 22, 2010 12:21 PM

Amid all the excitement of free content, everyone seems to forget the latent cost - which is an ultimate and critical dilution of intellectual material. As digital capabilities enable fast and free distribution, and networking takes on a global scope, our one-time bastions of intellectual wealth (our public libraries) will be increasingly seen as a liability to an author trying to make a living. Words will dry up and thoughts will follow. Manufacturers of digital devices will continue to compete and develop a means to transmit, but the generators of the content will begin to vanish. As with most technological advancements, there are two sides to consider. And the sooner the better.

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