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Electronic Books

It's a tempting prospect: a dozen books for the size of one. Electronic book devices allow readers to carry dozens of novels without the bulk or weight. But a year after the introduction of the device, it's still unclear whether bibliophiles are ready to turn in their paper for pixels.

There are advantages of switching from paper to plastic. Font style and size can be changed at the touch of a button. Don't know a word? Click to look it up in the dictionary. Scribble notes to yourself in the margin. Need info in a hurry? Search by keyword. Many works in the public domain can be downloaded for free, and more recent titles can often be purchased at a discount. All the while, you save the lives of a few helpless trees.

"Some people find themselves reading more," said Glenn Sanders, host of The eBook Network, a Web site devoted to electronic books. "Paperless access to one's own materials is empowering. Reading after the lights are out is said to have made several marriages happier."

There are also disadvantages. A black-and-white screen pales in comparison with glossy, colorful pages. You can't read it in the bathtub. And while thousands of titles are available for download, you may have difficulty finding the book you want. "Available content is still relatively limited," Sanders said. "Publishers are cranking up their conversion and editing engines, so that problem will go away in a year or two."

The Manufacturers

Several manufacturers have already come and gone. Current contenders include:

Softbook Press' SoftBook
The base model holds 1,500 pages of text. Memory can be expanded to a maximum of between 50,000 and 100,000 pages with the addition of a flash memory card. SoftBook has also partnered with a variety of publishing giants. The unit features a built-in 33.6 kps modem for downloading content.

The reader is available for $599.95. Through a special introductory offer, customers can purchase the system for $299.95, but they must also sign up for a 2-year, $19.95-per-month minimum content purchase plan.


What to Read?

Not sure you want to invest in book-specific hardware? The following publishers offer software that brings books to the screen of a Palm Pilot® or Windows CE machine, among other platforms.

  • Peanut Press
    Publishes books for electronic handheld computers such as 3Com's PalmPilot organizer. First-run and reprinted books are offered through a Web-based storefront. Customers can browse, read excerpts and purchase downloadable titles.

  • Glassbook
    This company is headed by one of the designers of Lotus Notes. It's working with Adobe to publish books that are readable on notebook computers, Windows CE® machines and other handheld platforms.

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