Franklin Writes a New Chapter in E-Books

NEW YORK (06/28/2000) - Avid readers have been a tough sell for companies trying to convince them that an electronic book is as enjoyable and easy to read as a traditional paperback or hardcover. Electronic books have been hard on the eyes, clunky to use and, worst of all, extremely limited in their content.

Hoping to remove these objections, Franklin Electronic Publishers Inc. this week announced a sleek line of handheld electronic books that look very much like Palm Inc. PDAs (and actually offer some PDA features like schedulers and to do lists), have large 240 X 200 pixel LCD displays, and will give owners access to thousands of books that they can read, or hear as audio titles.

Three models in the handheld eBookman line will ship this fall, the company says. The devices will be priced at US$129.95, $179.95, and $229.95.

Lack of content has been a substantial issue for electronic book companies.

Other than reference or public domain titles (like the Bible), traditional publishers have been hesitant to make their most saleable titles available in digital formats because of concerns about copyright and piracy.

The eBookman series erases this concern with an "open but secure" architecture that will allow customers to access titles from the Internet without compromising copyright protections, the company says. As a result, the company expects 12,000 audio titles that can be heard on the devices will be available when the products launch this fall. The company also expects "thousands" of text works that can be downloaded and read on the new product line to be made available.

Judging by a brief handling of the products, reading text on an eBookman should be a reasonably pleasant experience, at least in the short term. This is due to large LCD displays, which present at least 80 percent more content than the typical Palm-type handheld device.

The $129.95 device features 8MB of memory, while the $179.95 product adds backlight and an enhanced LCD display. The $229.95, top-of-the line model features 16MB of memory, additional content download offerings, and enhanced backlighting for the display.

All of the devices also offer the ability to download and play back electronic books, audio books, and MP3 music files. The products are also able to synchronize bundled PIM applications with Microsoft Outlook.

The company also announced that it is collaborating with Microsoft to bring Microsoft Reader software to the eBookman series and says that it had also struck a deal with Audible to bring audio books to the eBookman line.

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