E-readers wow at fair, but face tough competition

Sun Oct 19, 2008 7:01am EDT
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By Sarah Marsh and Georgina Prodhan

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Electronic reading devices are gaining converts but are unlikely to replace the printed book and will have to compete hard with other ways of consuming digital media, exhibitors at the Frankfurt Book Fair said.

Sales of electronic readers such as Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader have been growing fast, prompting smaller companies to introduce their own prototypes at the fair and publishers to step up the digitalization of their books.

The gadgets, small and light enough to fit into a handbag, can eliminate the need to carry around books and newspapers by accessing texts from the Internet to be read on a display screen at the user's convenience. Some also come with wi-fi connection.

Some believe they could galvanize the market for digital text in the way Apple's iPod did for digital music.

Penguin publishers Chief Executive John Makinson told Reuters: "They have become mainstream in the sense that they are a genuine consumer product for which there is real appetite, so this is not the province of geeks any longer."

Makinson said Penguin was now publishing all new titles both as printed books and e-books and was digitalizing its backlist.

Technology research firm iSuppli predicts that global e-book display revenue will grow to $291 million in 2012 from $3.5 million in 2007.

Fair exhibitors said e-readers were mainly used by scientists and early adopters at the moment, but were ideal for reducing the carry loads of commuters, students and travelers.   Continued...

<p>A customer tries the digital reader iRex iLiad at the Frankfurt book fair October 18, 2008. REUTERS/Alex Grimm</p>