Turning Content Into Gold
* Previously, consumers questioned the value of "dedicated" devices designed solely for reading e-books. The Pocket PC offers word processing, e-mail and other functions, though critics claim some features were stripped down to fit the small, hand-held device. Although this article focuses on its application to e-publishing, it's important to note the Pocket PC is marketed as a multipurpose device, rather than a dedicated book-reading product.
* Many owners found the delivery mechanisms used to load information on previous e-book readers cumbersome. The Pocket PC is designed to streamline the process of moving information between a consumer's desktop computer and his/her hand-held unit, although critics argue this may make the information more vulnerable to piracy.
* For publishers, a major weakness in earlier attempts to bring e-books to a broad market was the failure of copyright protection. Reader software uses ContentGuard, a new system of copyright protection that promises to allow a document's author, publisher, distributor or seller to secure it against piracy, track its movements, and (if applicable) force users to pay before using it.
* The total number of previous e-book reading devices bought by the public was disappointing to publishers. Between the April 19 unveiling of the Pocket PC and June 7, roughly 10,000 units were sold. While this is still an almost insignificant number to publishers, it seems likely that with the market muscle of Microsoft and other industry giants behind it, the Pocket PC may reach a broader segment of the reading public than its predecessors.
Perhaps more importantly, industry experts predict Reader software will be integrated into the Windows operating system and/or Microsoft's other leading software products such as Word and Publisher. This will open the door for wider use of e-books by consumers, whether or not they own a Pocket PC.
In combination, these improvements could signal the arrival of the e-book as a viable medium for publishers -- if the hardware and software deliver the advantages promised by their designers. While it's too early for industry judges to make a final verdict on the overall effectiveness of the Pocket PC and Reader, its release has sparked a sea change in the behavior of the larger publishing houses.