Talking Heads

Turning The Page

With the rising popularity of the Internet, laptop computers, high-resolution displays and all things digital, many have worried over the fate of the book. Will it be replaced by the computer? We may soon know--two start-up companies are launching lines of electronic books this fall.

SoftBook Press (http://www.softbook.com) of Menlo Park, California, and NuvoMedia (http://www.nuvomedia.com) of Palo Alto, California, have come out with handheld devices that store and let you scroll through texts of virtually any length. These products are designed to retrieve full-length books, business documents, reports and other items through standard modem connections to the Internet--making your Web research a snap. Once full of text, these devices' internal batteries let you run them for as long as 45 hours. As for weight, SoftBook weighs 2.9 pounds while NuvoMedia's RocketBook measures in at 20 ounces. Each is about the size of a paperback book.

Several leading publishing houses have signed on to supply books and other materials to these companies, including Random House and Simon & Schuster. SoftBook plans to charge $299 for its electronic book, plus a $9.95 per month subscription fee to search its online library and download texts. With a 33.6K modem inside, this device can reportedly download 100 pages per minute. NuvoMedia's product is less defined at this point, with no pricing details available.

What's it like to read from an electronic page? These devices' screens are fairly clear, but they offer nothing like the readability of a printed page. Still, this may be the shape of things to come.

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