B&N enters the eBook arena. With more e-Babel.

Today Barnes & Noble entered the eBook selling fray. For now they’re not launching a dedicated hardware device like the Kindle. Instead, they’re focusing on providing content for devices (some) people already own – iPhone/iPods, Blackberries, PC and Mac. Sometime later their books will be compatible with the forthcoming Plastic Logic reader too, but for now they’re piggybacking on existing hardware.

At first I was glad to see some competition at B&N’s level enter the eBook sphere. Amazon’s been throwing their weight around to the point that other players like Sony’s eBook store have been almost entirely forgotten. I recently picked up a Sony Reader PRS-505 at discount (review forthcoming, mostly positive!); I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked while reading on the bus how I like my Kindle. Amazon has mindshare with the Kindle, just like the iPod brand does among portable audio players, and B&N seemed like the most likely realistic competitor with their considerable clout as an established bookseller. And I don’t like seeing something so fundamental as the (potential) future of reading get locked up by a lone corporation like Amazon. So hooray, we’re saved, right?

Not quite. I’m dismayed and annoyed to see yet another DRM scheme come into play. B&N’s books won’t work on the Kindle or Sony Reader, nor will their competitors’ books work on the Plastic Logic reader. Readers who want to purchase an eBook from any major e-bookstore will be locked into the silo of their device’s manufacturer. So we have an alternative, but not an answer.

I’ll give Barnes & Noble credit where its due – their books will at least be readable on a PC or Mac. If I buy a Kindle book and then lose my Kindle, I’m completely cut off from my texts. If I lose a Plastic Logic reader I can at least still access my books on a computer. Reading on a desktop or laptop screen is less than ideal, but I’ll take that over no access at all any day. That’s a step in the right direction.

But B&N’s scheme still isn’t the answer! All purchased e-books need to be readable on any and all devices before I’ll even consider purchasing my books that way.