Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Shaping reading

Shridhar Balan

When books first appeared in the e-format (electronic version) to be read on the computer screen, there was a feeling that this might spell a decline of the printed format book.

However, more recent inventions have suggested that reading can indeed take place in a wide variety of places and formats. While these would serve to strengthen the reading habit, books need not be the only medium for this.

While MP3 and iPod players have profoundly changed the way people listen to music, it was hoped similar devices would affect the way people read. The invention of the rocket handheld Reader, a device which could download books from the net with an in-built memory for storage, did not quite revolutionise reading. There were not that many books on the net then and there were limitations on storage. It did not have page-turning software and reading was a downward linear progression, causing strain to the eyes .

There are now great expectations from the Sony Reader unveiled recently at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. This iPod-like device resembles a large electronic organiser. Its memory chip can hold up to 100 books at a time. These can be either downloaded from the net or the memory chip can be used to store digital versions of books for readers. It has an in-built page turning software where pages can be turned at the touch of a button. While the prototype at Las Vegas was said to cost around $300, its commercial version is likely to be launched later this year.

Publishers have welcomed the new technology that would strengthen reading, and, inter alia, for content. Major publishers are now making digital versions of their books for record, storage and for putting out in the electronic format. A copy of the digital version could easily be used for onloading onto the Reader. Sony has already signed agreements with leading publishers such as Random House and HarperCollins. Buoyed by the response from publishers, Sony is already working on new devices that will download books straight on to the Reader without using a computer. Knowing that price and content will be the key factors in the Reader’s success, Sony has realised that downloadable books have to cost less and readers must have access to a wide variety of books. It has plans to create a niche for electronic books on its website and is negotiating rights with publishers.

In the automobiles market, BMW has tried to gain an edge over others by using books and a love of reading by its customers. The popularity of MP3 has lead to the creation of BMW Audio Books which will only be available as free downloads. Leading authors from Random House like Karin Slaughter and Don Winslow have been specially commissioned to write 45-minute books. Each audio book features a different BMW car. The books complete are feature stories. Available as podcasts, the car is integral to the story. The book lasts for the intended length of the average car journey which is for 45 minutes.

Don Winslow's The Beautiful Ride has already been launched and Karin Slaughter’s Cold Cold Heart is expected. BMW hopes to launch a new book every two weeks and authors like James Flint and Simon Kernick are already in the pipeline.



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