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The Future of Online Publishing

Cutting-edge devices like Sony's new Reader Daily Edition let you enjoy thousands of books and magazines from anywhere.

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Few and far between are the entrepreneurs who haven't actively flipped through the pages of popular financial publications such as The Wall Street Journal or defining tomes like The Tipping Point. But thanks to e-book readers such as 's newly announced Reader Daily Edition ($399), which virtually simulate the ink-and-paper experience by displaying documents and manuscripts on a digital tablet, their numbers may soon grow. Due in December, the gadget--packing a 7-inch monitor viewable in portrait or landscape mode, touchscreen controls and wireless connectivity--promises to replace paperbacks and newspapers as small-business owners' guilty vice.

As with Amazon's popular Kindle ($299), which boasts a smaller 6-inch screen, and larger 9.7-inch screen-equipped cousin the Kindle DX ($489)--neither of which offers a touchscreen option--text is displayed in 16 different shades of grey. But unlike other Sony models introduced earlier in August, including the 5-inch Reader Pocket Edition ($199) and touch-enabled 6-inch Reader Touch Edition ($299), wireless networking capability is built in. Bearing this in mind, e-book purchases (most volumes average around $10) for the Reader Daily Edition don't require a USB connection to acquire, but can instead be bought anywhere AT&T's 3G mobile broadband network reaches. Capable of holding 1000 books on its internal memory, the device will also include optional expansion slots should you wish to add additional storage and expand your portable library.

Interestingly, Kindle models, which currently lead the market in sales and performance, offer a selection of more than 300,000 books, newspapers, magazines and blogs, letting you access The New York Times or Newsweek on demand. However, content for the Kindle is locked into a proprietary format that only works with these devices or officially-licensed software for devices like the iPhone or iPod Touch. With the Reader Daily Edition, you can buy digital volumes or periodicals in the open ePub standard, designed to work across a variety of devices, allowing you to transport your collection with you if you upgrade to another unit. That's no small bonus, considering that companies like iRex, Plastic Logic and Hearst are all planning to launch new models shortly. And, while we're at it, that such options ensure ongoing access to treasured manuscripts even if a manufacturer were to stop supporting your specific model of hardware.

So while Sony's "eBook Store" may offer less selection at face value, in practice, the Reader Daily Edition's integrated support for PDF files, Microsoft Word documents and manuscripts in this open standard provides potential access to thousands of classic and best-selling volumes (Not to mention over a million free public domain books courtesy of Google). Likewise, via a partnership with OverDrive, a library finder feature expands the device's overall catalog by letting you pinpoint local libraries that offer compatible e-books for download, and check these volumes out using your library card. When the loan period ends, volumes simply expire, with no overdue deadlines or late fees to worry about. Courtesy of these arrangements, there's little fear you'll wind up running light on reading material on your next cross-country jaunt. Nonetheless, do take note: It's inevitable that small-business owners interested in an e-book reader of any sort won't find as broad a range of books as they might hope on every topic, especially those focusing on niche categories or developing markets.

Chalk it up to the newness of the digital format. With e-book readers only now becoming a mass-market concept, most manuscripts--especially older volumes and titles aimed at highly-targeted audiences--have yet to make the jump to the virtual world. Regardless, for those who are tired of lugging around stacks of magazines in their laptop bags, or sick of stuffing chunky novels into their suitcases, solutions such as these may prove a potential godsend. While many traditionalists will inevitably remain nonplussed by such devices' still admittedly limited functionality, primitive feature sets (see the Kindle family's awkward text-to-speech vocalizations) and lack of tactile feedback, who are we to judge? For those willing to put preconceptions aside and read between the lines, it's not entirely farfetched to consider that they might just represent the future of journalism, publishing and in-flight entertainment.

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