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"Industry Heavyweights Boosting Popularity of E-Book"

Microsoft and online bookseller Barnesandnoble.com are teaming up to open the first major Internet store selling digital books which will be available for downloading and subsequent reading on a computer screen or in paperback copies that can be printed on demand. By teaming with Microsoft, the world's largest software maker,
Barnesandnoble.com hopes to leap past rival Amazon.com. Amazon is currently the No. 1 online bookseller, but they currently lack the technological capabilities for digital books.

While Barnsandnoble.com will provide the web store for selling the digital books, Microsoft is launching the latest version of its free software for reading e-texts on a computer screen. Microsoft's software is based on a technology called ClearType, which delivers more legible text on a computer screen. It is available as a free download on Microsoft's web site. Earlier this year, Microsoft released a version of the software for devices based on its PocketPC platform and will continue releasing updates for their handheld computing devices.

Although the deal calls for Barnesandnoble.com to sell the books, Microsoft will make a small percentage of every sale from the Barnesandnoble.com web site. The average price for the e-books will range from $5 to $15 although the exact amount of Microsoft's percentage has not been released.

Microsoft and Barnesandnoble.com are not the only companies looking into the e-book market. In March, Amazon.com and tiny software maker called
Glassbook offered a free download of a Stephen King story that flooded the Internet site.

Adobe, another software giant, is hoping to offer a complete solution for
authoring, publishing and distributing electronic content via the Internet. They have recently offered their partners two new technologies called Adobe PDF Merchant and Web Buy, a feature within Acrobat Reader that is scheduled to be released later this year. They have plans to work with Everybook, Fatbrain.com, Glassbook, Simon & Schuster, and Xerox to accelerate the adoption of electronic document acceptance. With PDF Merchant, customers could download content using the already popular PDF format and then pay for the rights to read the e-text. This is where Adobe's PDF Merchant comes in. It would manage the encryption of the PDF files and the distribution of the security keys that would be required to read them.

It's difficult to determine the early leaders in this field, but the input of several companies may speed the use of new technologies for reading e-texts distributed via the Internet. E-books are an interesting concept and many of the technological obstacles are being removed although there are several factors that need to be resolved. If the computer industry has its way, we will adopt the technology and buy all of our Stephen King novels this way.

  - by Clayton Crooks

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