E-book publishers writing new chapters

The Chicago Tribune
has a nice report on E-Books, past, present and future.

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When Jim Sachs took a few magazines for a 12-hour airplane ride back from Hong Kong in the fall of 1995, he had no idea that his folly would spawn an entire industry. After reading through the magazines, he faced a long flight with nothing to do but stare at the seatback in front of him.

Sachs, then general manager of the technology group at Hasbro Inc., said he would have needed to fill an entire carry-on bag with books to have enough reading material for the flight. If all the books were digitized and stored on his laptop computer, he thought, how much easier would that be than hauling around a small library?

Too bad reading on a laptop wasn\'t easier.

\"I thought to myself that I needed some kind of electronic reading device,\" said Sachs, who is best known for co-designing the Macintosh mouse.

What eventually came out of the flight and subsequent discussions with Andrew J. Preston Jr., then-president of a multimedia publishing house, was the Softbook, a leather-bound electronic book with a liquid crystal display weighing just 2.9 pounds.

The device became a proprietary solution for securely distributing electronic information over the Internet. In 1996, Sachs and Preston founded Softbook Press Inc., based in Menlo Park, Calif.

The newly spawned industry, which sits at the precipice of acceptance, could earn an estimated $34 million this year and $400 million in downloaded e-books by 2004, according to Forrester Research Inc. That might not sound like much in the $20 billion book publishing industry, but it is definitely on an upward trend.

Also, that number is actually a low-ball figure, according to internal projections by HarperCollins Publishers. In five years, they expect e-books to account for $2 billion in annual sales. \"We think this is going to be a real market,\" said David Steinberger, president of corporate strategy at HarperCollins.

Whereas one to two years ago HarperCollins was skeptical of the viability of e-books, now \"we see this as a huge opportunity,\" Steinberger said. \"We see this as the next wave of opportunity to reach readers.\"

Currently, e-books from traditional publishers and e-publishers are sold over the Internet through bookstores such as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com as well as hundreds of smaller e-commerce sites. E-publishers -- those who only publish books in a digital format -- also sell their titles from their company sites.

Both e-book publishers and manufacturers of dedicated readers point to two events that propelled e-books into the spotlight after being relegated to the background while MP3 digital music players and personal digital assistants took off.

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