TOKYO Sony Corp. and 14 major publishing, printing and newspaper companies are planning a new eBook business that will focus on rental service based on OpenMG, Sony's digital rights management technology.
The partners established an eBook distribution company for Japan called Publishing link, Ltd. here on Nov. 4 to begin an eBook rental business next spring. Initially, Sony will own a 41-percent stake in the company, while Kodansha and Shinchosha, both major publishers in Japan, each hold 15.38 percent. Dai Nippon Printing and Toppan Printing are the third largest shareholders, owning 10.25 percent each. The remaining nine founders share the rest.
A prototype eBook reader to be used by the partners will employ E Ink's electronic paper display measuring approximately 6 inches diagonally. "The electronic paper display has a big contrast ratio, which is close to paper and easy to read," said a Sony spokesman.
Toppan Printing has been E Ink's major strategic partner since May 2001, and has invested $30 million on the joint venture with the Massachusetts company. Last year, E Ink, Toppan and Philips said they have succeeded in developing electronic paper that can display moving images in color. Toppan is now preparing volume production of monochrome electronic paper.
The new Sony-led company will provide contents, which users can download to PCs. For security reasons, the reader does not have telecommunication capabilities. With USB or Memory Stick, users can "check out" materials from their PC to the reader based on the OpenMG scheme, which is already used to manage music files on PCs without allowing duplication without permission. The reader program allows users to read downloaded materials in a certain period of time.
This service will use Sony's proprietary BBeB format as its data format. Sony developed the format for electronic publishing using XML as the intermediate language.
Sony declined to disclose details about the reader, saying only that it would make the reader available before the services begins next spring.
The Electronic Book Business Consortium was founded here in October. Founders include Matsushita Electric Industries and Toshiba Corp. along with publishers and other industry members. Dai Nippon and Toppan Printing also belong to both eBook groups.
"Publishing link is open to companies other than founders. We are going to invite investors," said Noriyuki Manabe, vice president and chief operating officer of Publishing link, who joined the company from Sony.
The consortium said it invite others participants. Matsushita plans to begin marketing of its eBook reader compliant with the consortium's data formats this fall.
In the future, the two groups may share the content data format, but there is an immediate possibility that the Matsushita/Toshiba group and Sony will butt heads over eBook distribution in Japan.