Gemstar Wants to Bring E-Books to the Masses

Will the company that bought TV Guide last fall be able to jump-start the market for electronic books? That's the question in stories about Gemstar's stock-for-stock deal to acquire the two leading e-book device manufacturers, NuvoMedia and SoftBook Press.

According to the New York Times' Doreen Carvajal, the two companies have had limited success "because of the wariness of publishers and authors about posting a high volume of titles in the format." Carvajal reported that Henry C.

Yuen, chairman and chief executive of Gemstar, acknowledged that marketing the devices is what he called a "double chicken-and-the-egg" dilemma. "The company needs to sell a higher volume of the devices to attract publishers and authors," she wrote. "Currently, perhaps less than 10,000 have been sold. The prices of electronic books also need to come down to build the market, but that will not happen until demand increases, [Yuen] said."

Salon.com's Lydia Lee explained the problems inherent in e-books, "You can download Time magazine or a Stephen King novel for a little less than you'd pay at the bookstore - but first you have to shell out about $300 to buy a SoftBook or NuvoMedia's RocketBook digital reader. Besides, even among the digitally savvy - who are already toting a laptop, cell phone and PDA - there are few who really want to trade a disposable magazine for another machine."

Still, Lee reported that Yuen has some experience in solving chicken-and-egg-type problems. Gemstar's VCR Plus technology, which lets you record a show by entering a code into your VCR, is "ubiquitous today, but it took years to develop the market," Lee wrote. "At first, local TV guides weren't interested in listing the codes, because few VCRs were programmed to understand them, and the VCR companies wouldn't include the technology because there weren't any TV listings. Gemstar had to market special remote controls directly to consumers until it was able to get enough VCR manufacturers on board." Still, VCR Plus didn't try to fundamentally change the way TV was consumed. It will be struggle for Yuen to popularize e-books - at least as hard as slogging through "Ulysses" on an LCD screen.

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