A Busy Summer for E-Books

Article excerpt

New conference presents reader devices and author challenges

Traditionally, publishers have been viewed as rather slow to change, but the recent frenzy of e-book activity would certainly seem to challenge that notion. After the surprise success of Stephen King's novella Riding the Bullet, e-books have become as hot as a sunny Fourth of July barbecue. This month I'm going to detail some of this summer's e-book highlights, which included the announcement of a new conference devoted to e-books, the formation of new alliances, a forthcoming new entry into the e-book device market, and two major authors who are trying alternative publishing strategies.

New E-Book Conference This Fall

Thousands gathered in Chicago this past June to attend BookExpoAmerica, one of the most important events in the book publishing industry. At the conference, Reed Exhibitions, producer of BookExpo America, announced that a new high-tech twin of BookExpo America, ePub Expo (http://www.epubexpo.com), will be held at the Millennium Broadway Hotel and Conference Center in New York on October 31-November 1, 2000. The 2-day summit will consist of a conference, hands-on workshops, exhibits, and networking functions. Organizers hope that ePub Expo will quickly become the forum where innovations are announced and strategic alliances are solidified.

iPublish Alliances

As reported in the July/August issue of Information Today (page 37; see also http://www.infotoday.com/it/ju100/news14.htm), Time Warner announced that iPublish.com will launch in first-quarter 2001. iPublish will explore new avenues for the production, distribution, and sales of new forms of fiction and nonfiction material created specifically for the Internet. In a July 19 press release Time Warner announced that Lightning Source (a subsidiary of Ingram Industries, Inc.; http://www.ingrambookgroup.com) will serve as iPublish's preferred and primary e-book fulfillment provider. Lightning Source also entered into a similar strategic alliance with Simon & Schuster on July 6, 2000. iPublish.com will be unveiling its first list of new titles this month, which will be distributed through online retailers. E-books will be available for Microsoft's eReader and Gemstar's Rocket eBook.

Small Devices, Still Small Content

Franklin Electronic Publishers (http://www.franklin.com) also announced its upcoming entry into the e-book device market. Franklin's new eBookman, a multimedia and content player, is scheduled to be released this fall. Three models will be available ranging from $129.95 (with 8 MB of RAM) to $229.95 (with 16MB of RAM). At these prices, the eBookman would be the least expensive of the e-book devices currently on the market. All three models are reported to include a 240 x 200 pixel LCD display and will also be able to play back MP3 files and record voice. The eBookman will use the Microsoft eReader as its viewing platform.

Microsoft's eReader was released late last spring in the company's third attempt to overtake the Palm O/S dominance of the hand-held market. The eReader is bundled with ClearType, which uses sub-pixel font-rendering technology to improve presentation of type. Microsoft hopes that the eReader will become one of the "killer apps" that will propel eBooks (Microsoft's term for e-books using the eReader) and the Pocket PC platform into the mainstream, displacing Palm's dominant position.

There have been a few problems on the way to the e-book revolution for the eReader. While the Pocket PC garnered better reviews than its previous Microsoft entries into the hand-held marketplace, it has been reported as being prone to crashes (so typical for a Microsoft product). And operating stability is a significant issue for hand-held users who consider reliability to be paramount. This factor, coupled with a higher price for a Pocket PC over a Palm, has not yet led to a major Palm defection.

More importantly, the eReader lacks available content. …