Last August, top executives from Microsoft, Barnesandnoble.com and several book publishers assembled at a Midtown Manhattan hotel for a news conference to usher in the coming age of the electronic book.
"We believe the e-book revolution will have an impact on the book industry as great as the paperback revolution of the 60s," Jack Romanos, president of the Simon & Schuster division of Viacom, told a crowd of reporters.
Laurence Kirshbaum, chairman of the books division of AOL Time Warner, pledged to lead the charge: "We want to see electronic publishing blow the covers off of books." Andersen Consulting had recently estimated that by 2005 digital books could account for 10 percent of all book sales.
A year later, however, the main advantage of electronic books appears to be that they gather no dust. Almost no one is buying. Publishers and online bookstores say only the very few best-selling electronic editions have sold more than a thousand copies, and most sell far fewer. Only a handful have generated enough revenue to cover the few hundred dollars it costs to convert their texts to digital formats. …