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E-Books Grab the Spotlight
by
Posted On September 1, 2000
The press release mill has been churning lately with continuous news about e-book products and deals. The general public-acceptance level for e-books is still fairly low, but a lot of companies, including major publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Time Warner, are jumping on the e-book bandwagon and certain markets should see a buzz of activity. The recent digital-only release of a Stephen King novella may have also sparked public interest and showcased the potential of the Web.

The textbook market is a logical application for the easily updated electronic products. WizeUp Digital Textbooks (http://www.wizeup.com) recently announced it is offering more than 75 digital college textbooks from major publishers to over 50 college campuses nationwide. According to the company, the digital textbooks enable students to enlarge text, type notes directly onto the digital page, highlight words, search for specific facts, and even click through to Web sites offering additional information related to the book's subject. WizeUp's digital textbooks also include audio and video capabilities.

Here's a quick review of other recent developments. Microsoft Corp. has rolled out the Windows version of its Microsoft Reader for desktop PCs and laptop computers (available for free download at http://www.microsoft.com/reader). barnesandnoble.com and Microsoft also announced the opening of the barnesandnoble.com bookstore.

OverDrive, Inc. then announced the release of its ReaderWorks Standard software (http://www.readerworks.com), an authoring tool available for free download that allows educators, authors, publishers, business professionals, and others to convert documents, text, images, or Web content into Microsoft Reader eBooks. A customizable commercial e-book product, ReaderWorks Publisher, is also available.

On September 24, 2000 in New York, Thomson multimedia, the first major consumer electronics company to enter the emerging electronic book market, will officially introduce its RCA-brand eBook line of dedicated electronic reading devices. The readers use technology licensed from Gemstar-TV Guide International, Inc., the company that purchased the two companies with dedicated e-book readers (NuvoMedia's Rocket eBook and Softbook Reader from Softbook Press). The new devices represent the next generation of those e-book devices.

The RCA REB1100 eBook features a 5.5-inch (diagonal measurement), monochrome, LCD touch-screen, and stores approximately 20 novels, or 8,000 average paperback pages, with 8 MB of memory, and a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 40 hours. It weighs just 17 ounces. The device also features an upgrade slot for a 64-MB SmartMedia memory upgrade card to increase storage capacity. An internal modem in the device permits users to access their personal electronic library shelf and new content from any standard telephone line. The REB1100 can also be connected to a computer through a USB port or infrared link.

The RCA REB1200 eBook features an 8.5-inch color LCD touch-screen and weighs 33 ounces. The REB1200 comes with 8 MB of memory—the equivalent of approximately 5,000 pages of color content and text. The memory can also be supplemented with additional Compact Flash memory cards. In addition to a 56-K modem, the REB1200 also includes an Ethernet port for fast book downloads over a broadband network, cable modem, or DSL line. Suggested retail prices for both models and details on content availability will be announced in September, and both products are expected to be available in October.

Contentville.com, the site that sells content of all kinds, including books, articles, dissertations, speeches, and screenplays, has recently opened a section on its site to sell e-books. The e-bookstore already lists titles from its own e-book publishing division, Contentville Press, and will sell e-books from other publishers as well. The e-books are available in Microsoft Reader format, with the software downloadable from the Contentville site.

Finally, at Seybold San Francisco Publishing 2000 last week, Microsoft announced a strategic relationship with Amazon.com for its future e-book store, while Adobe announced plans to greatly expand the availability of e-books in the Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) at the barnesandnoble.com eBookStore. Adobe also rolled out a flock of other announcements, including some new products, new alliances, and the purchase of Glassbook, Inc., a developer of e-book software. More details on the Seybold announcements will be available in the October issue of Information Today.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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