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BBC beaten in bid for first Brit ebook

Attachments spin off comes second

BBC Worldwide appears to have been pipped to the post as the first company to launch a mainstream British ebook before Christmas. Harper Collins got there first, writes Tony Dennis.

The e Before Christmas from M@tt Beaumont, the ebook from Harper Collins, is the follow-up to the author's first novel, e. Its arch rival is On The Edge, by Rupert Smith - a spin off from the BBC TV Series, Attachments. The BBC offering was due to become available on Monday 13 November but visitors to the site - www.ontheedgebook.co.uk - were told the online novel was "coming soon". Harper Collins, however, was able to get its rival offering up for grabs on the book's dedicated site - www.millershanks.co.uk - yesterday. Both are now live today.

One major difference between the two is that On the Edge is available in three formats - Versabook, Palm Book and Glassbook. The Versabook format allows users to read the book live on the Net while the Palm Book is aimed at Palm Pilot/Handspring owners and the Glassbook format is available for Windows or Macintosh computers. By contrast The E before Christmas is only available to read off-line in Glassbook format. There are a number of other ebook formats around including Rocket eBook, Softbook or the Microsoft Reader. Another differentiator is that E Before Christmas is only 30,000 words long (officially described as a novella) and costs £2.99 whereas the BBC offering costs £5.99. A source at Harper Collins complained, "Ours is a real novel from a published author whereas theirs is merely an adjunct to a TV series."

The e Before Christmas is unusual in that the plot is recounted entirely as a series of emails sent between the leading characters. It is set around events taking place in a fictitious advertising agency, Miller Shanks. Although extremely funny, the plot will be almost completely unintelligible to anyone who hasn't read the author's first book, e. A paper version of this publication, should appear in UK book stores such as Waterstones on 4 December for the same price as the electronic version. ®

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