The Electronic Book Arrives
by Tatyana Sinioukov
The next big idea -- the electronic book--has materialized in this fall's releases of SoftBook and Rocket eBook by the two Silicon Valley companies, SoftBook Press, Menlo Park, CA, and NuvoMedia, Palo Alto, CA. BookTech asked some publishers their opinion about a possible onslaught of e-book products. Even those who don't believe it will lead to a sudden death of the paper book want to know how the e-book will read, how it will feel when held, how, if at all, it will affect the book-publishing and book-selling businesses and, ultimately, consumers' perception of a book. Is a book a collection of sheets of paper made from a dead tree that is bound together? Or is it a content-delivery device that, among other things, can become all-digital in the future?
That's why the e-book has been on many people's minds--not just those in the publishing business. Since NuvoMedia and Softbook spread the news about their forthcoming releases, they have been enjoying extensive coverage in Fortune, U.S. News and World Report, The New York Times, Time, Wired and numerous industry publications.
Enter the players: SoftBook is a leather-bound, 2.9-pound, notebook-sized hardware device that features a backlit, touch-sensitive screen and can hold up to 100,000 pages of text and graphics. Readers can search for words and phrases, view text in a choice of font sizes; make annotations directly on the screen and erase them, highlight text, bookmark pages and link to related information. Intended to emulate the traditional reading experience, SoftBook displays an entire page at a time. There is no need to scroll--the 9.5" screen is activated when the leather cover is opened. A rechargeable (takes one hour to recharge) lithium ion battery pack provides up to five hours of viewing.
SoftBook's built-in 33.6 Kbps modem connects the device to the SoftBook network by plugging into a standard phone jack. Once online, a user can browse in the corporate InfoCenter or purchase books and periodicals at the virtual SoftBookstore. Each Softbook has an account with the network, where purchased copies with annotations, highlights and bookmarks are stored. Text-based documents can also be e-mailed from computers to the network in order to be read with the SoftBook. SoftBook Press provides a SoftBook Publishing Toolkit to convert titles to the SoftBook standard as it's expecting more publishers to come on board and more titles to become available through the SoftBook Network.