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A breakthrough for e-books?

16 December 2002

The recent launch of the TabletPC has given publishers the hope of a real breakthrough for e-books. At the recent TabletPC Digital Publishing Conference in New York (sponsored by Microsoft but also by other companies with e-book readers), the hope was expressed that the new e-reader format will help with the wider adoption of e-books. Nick Bogaty, executive director of the Open eBook Forum said: 'Publishers are excited about it... This will jump-start things, and it will certainly jump-start a lot of the e-book activity that two years ago was supplied by venture capital money.'

The multiplicity of e-book formats has not made it any easier to develop the e-book readers, with Microsoft's e-reader format with its TabletPC operating system, the Adobe PDF (which is now quite widely used for downloading from the Internet), Gemstar's e-book reader and Palm's computing platform all competing. Greater interoperability of the different file formats would make things very much easier for publishers, who are currently having to produce material in up to five different formats. The more general use of XML (Xtensible Markup Language - a standard for labelling the content in documents) would help to standardise how data files are used in the different publishing platforms, making it easier and cheaper to produce what is currently required. Of course publishers - and the e-book reading public - would benefit from one e-reader emerging as the clear winner.

But does it all matter? What sort of future does the e-book, which currently still represents only about one-tenth of 1% of the publishing business, really have? Just in case you remain sceptical, it's worth noting that Allied Business Intelligence has just forecast that the TabletPC will add another $1 billion in market value to the Internet Appliance computing category this year. And it predicts that the market value of the Internet Appliance market as a whole will grow to $32 billion by 2007.