Sony Launches E-Book Joint Venture in Japan Ahead of iPad's Arrival

Sony Launches E-Book Joint Venture in Japan Ahead of iPad's Arrival
Sony Launches E-Book Joint Venture in Japan Ahead of iPad's Arrival

Sony (SNE) is going home and hitting the books -- the e-books, that is. On Thursday, the electronics giant unveiled a Japanese e-book distribution joint venture that's taking aim at rival Apple (AAPL), which just happens to be launching its iPad in Japan tomorrow.

Sony, which sells three versions of its eBook Reader in the U.S., doesn't sell any in Japan right now, but it's gearing up to defend its home turf later this year.

Sony is teaming up with Toppan Printing, telecommunications company KDDI and newspaper giant Asahi Shimbun as part of the e-book venture, which is scheduled to begin its content service sometime later this year. The service will feature an open platform upon which a range of devices will be able to access comics, books, magazines and newspapers provided by the founding participants and others who later sign on.

Each of the four corporate participants will own a 25% stake in the new venture, which will aggregate content from publishers and newspapers, as well as handle digital content authoring, platform management, sales and distribution.

Earlier E-Readers Didn't Catch on in Japan

As part of the greater plan, Sony will re-enter the Japanese market with a new e-reader later this year, according to The Wall Street Journal. Sony has previously attempted to launch e-readers in Japan, but the devices struggled to find a market. Those earlier attempts, which date back to as early as 1990, are believed to have failed because content was scarce, the Journal noted. In 2007, the company retreated from its most recent Japanese e-book push, which began in 2004.

But a lot has changed since 2007. The amount of content for e-books has steadily increased as traditional and independent publishers have glommed onto the concept and cash-hungry magazines and newspapers sought out new revenue sources by pushing their content online. Factor in Google's plethora of content, and it is clear that the environment is entirely different than it was just a few years ago.

"With the establishment of this joint venture concerning eBook distribution, we are hopeful about the accelerated process for creating a system whereby eBooks, which we publishers have promoted, can be delivered to consumers," says Yoshinobu Noma, Kondansha vice president and representative director of The Electronic Book Publishers Association of Japan, in a statement.

Achieving a system for e-books to be delivered to consumers, as Noma hopes to see, is unlikely to be a problem: The market for e-book devices is becoming crowded. Dell earlier this week announced a launch schedule for its Streak eBook reader, which will soon be joining Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, Apple's highly touted iPad and Sony's own Reader.