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\"With help from Michael Crichton and Star Trek, the Redmond, Washington, company plans this summer to distribute, via free downloads, new software that lets standard PCs display electronic books as crisp text and pictures. The technology may finally give the big publishers, such as Bertelsmann\'s Random House and Viacom (NYSE: VIA)\'s Simon & Schuster, reason to abandon paper in favor of bytes, at least for some types of work.\"Two years ago, old publishing houses sat back as Nuvomedia marketed its Rocket e-book, a hand-held device that stores up to ten books. Over the past year, electronic publishers such as Fatbrain.com, Softbook, and Xlibris popped up, providing even more competition. Those sites peddled books converted into digital type while allowing authors and aspiring authors to bypass the publishing houses and sell their tomes directly to readers.
The big publishers largely viewed the startups as quaint sites that gave frustrated novelists a place to publish their works. They viewed the medium as a novelty, with the most popular digital books limited to reference works and business-related books.