Peter Kafka

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Sony, Google Fire Back at Amazon’s Kindle With… “Black Beauty”?

blkbeautyWant to buy an e-book reader but can’t decide between Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s version, the Reader?

Then you’re in the minority: Most folks are choosing Amazon’s (AMZN) device, even though Sony’s (SNE) sells for $60 less. Sony’s newest gambit to change that: A tie-up with Google (GOOG) that will add half a million free titles to the Sony’s book catalog.

The deal, announced this morning, will give Sony a catalog with some 600,000 titles — more than twice the number that Kindle sells. But given that these are public domain titles that anyone can sell, I’m not sure that this will do much for Sony. From the release:

“Books from Google will feature an extensive list of traditional favorites, including “The Awakening,” “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” and “Black Beauty,” as well as a number of items that can be more difficult for people to access. For example, literature lovers can find and read The Letters of Jane Austen in addition to “Sense and Sensibility” and “Emma.” Also included are a number of titles in French, German, Italian, Spanish and other languages. People can search the full text of the collection, or they can browse by subject, author, or featured titles.

Give Sony props for rolling out an e-book reader well before Amazon did. But the Kindle has a huge marketing advantage over the Reader — the Sony product has yet to appear on the cover of Newsweek or The Daily Show, and it’s doubtful it ever will. More important, the Kindle has features the Reader can’t match — namely, the ability to download books and other stuff wirelessly.

All of which makes it hard to see the upside in Sony continuing to plow resources into this one — especially when it has more important battles to fight.