This is most likely the last in what seems like a spate of e-book stories, and it’s the most interesting news to come out of an otherwise sedate Mobile World Congress (formerly 3GSM conference) this week in Barcelona. It builds on Adobe’s announcement last week that Lexcycle will build Adobe’s Digital Editions e-book platform and DRM into the popular Stanza e-book reader application for Apple iPhones and iPod Touches.
Adobe announced on Monday that it has also made deals with Bookeen, iRex Technologies, Plastic Logic, Polymer Vision Ltd., and Spring Design to implement the new Adobe Reader Mobile SDK to those companies’ e-book devices. iRex’s iLiad has been on the market for a few years, whereas the other companies are working on thinner, lighter, and/or more portable devices that have yet to launch.
The e-book device market is thus growing in a different way than looked to be the case a mere couple of months ago. At that time, it appeared as if Amazon’s Kindle were headed on an Apple-like trajectory to be the vertically integrated hype-laden market leader while Adobe scurried around amongst the lucky leftovers, as Microsoft had done with its PlaysForSure strategy in the mobile music market.
But now we know that isn’t the case. Adobe’s deal with Lexcycle gives it a path to the iPhone with service providers already in place that have rights to distribute lots of major-publisher frontlist content. And the new devices scheduled to come out on the market later this year have the potential to outpace Amazon’s Kindle 2.0, which was afforded a lukewarm reception at last week’s Tools of Change conference in New York.
Yet Amazon isn’t betting entirely on the Kindle either; it’s also trying to extend its Kindle content licenses to a wide range of existing smartphones and PDAs (including Treos and Blackberrys) through its Mobipocket platform.
The market for e-book platforms is now definitely a two-horse race. Amazon has the advantage of simplicity and integration, but at the same time, publishers fear that it if it gets too powerful it will control e-book economics the way Apple has appeared to control digital music economics.
The next step will be for these platform providers to enable services that offer so-called rights locker capabilities. These will let customers move their e-books around among all their devices — presumably with the blessing of publishers. Amazon is already making noises to this effect, but publishers have to agree.
The other noteworthy announcement out of Mobile World Congress was from Omnifone, yet I’m tempted not to take it at face value. The UK-based provider of the MusicStation mobile music subscription service is moving into the broadband ISP market. It intends to get ISPs to bundle all-you-can-eat music streaming services with large major-label catalogs into monthly subscriber fees. Unfortunately, the announcement was as short on specifics as it was on actual ISP partners, and to make matters worse, the coverage in the New York Times, Billboard, the Guardian, and other publications contained inconsistent facts; and the company itself hasn’t issued a press release. Let’s just say that Omnifone has been guilty of premature announce-ulation before…