Sony to Kobo to ...?

Posted Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 09:59
Logo for the now-closed Sony Reader Store

Back in 2009 I received a Sony ebook reader for Christmas. The PRS-600 (such poetry in the name!) worked, kind of. But it has sat at my bedside untouched for years, replaced by the iPad and a Nexus 7, both of which are considerably easier to use and read.

And this may explain why, as of March 20, the Sony Reader Store has closed its virtual doors. The good news: At no additional charge, Sony is transitioning its customers (and their purchases) over to Kobo. Its FAQ answers most of the questions users will have. Sony hardware will continue to operate.

But this post isn’t just about that transition. It’s about a discovery I made in the process: I’ve lost some ebooks.

I’ve bought ebooks from several vendors over the years. One set, the three-volume Neanderthal Parallax series by Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer, was really good—so good that I decided to read it again. Except, I can’t find them.

I’m not saying that this is Sony’s fault, because I can’t be sure that’s where I bought them. But the books are no longer available through any of the e-reading apps on any of my devices.

The concept of the cloud is that you don’t really have to “manage” your ebooks. You can begin the title on one device, and finish on another. They’re just out there. But this realization that books you legitimately paid for can just up and disappear has given me pause.

How many reading apps does it make sense to have, when you’ll have to track your books across them? Which companies are the most likely to endure? Will it be necessary for me to keep a database of receipts just in case I need to track my e-purchases? Do I need to establish procedures that enable me to download and back up my purchases, consolidating the titles from across platforms to a single source? If so, I’ll have to find vendors that permit such things. It’s also an annoying amont of extra work.

On the one hand, I’ve lost paper books, too, usually by giving them away. It’s not a terrible thing to pay an author for another copy of a book I enjoyed. On the other hand, I can’t give an ebook away (per their licensing agreements), and now I find that I have some mistrust of ebook sellers. I remember the delicious example of Amazon’s yanking 1984 and Animal Farm from Kindles back in 2009, but that was based on some copyright disputes. As far as I know, that doesn’t apply to the Neanderthal Parallax series.

I’m curious: Has anybody else experienced vanishing e-purchases?

JAMES LARUE is a writer, speaker, and consultant on the future of libraries. He can be reached at jlarue[at]jlarue.com.