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Penguin has jumped into the ebook format with both feet. From September it is making a large range of titles from its back catalogue available over the Internet. They includes classics from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens etc. as well as guide books, reference books and business titles (even Bill Gates' Business @ the speed of thought).

The famous publishing house has racked its brains and come up with the new name ePenguin for the electronic books, but its decision to embrace the format - and, so it says, launch books purely as ebooks - is a great step forward in making electronic books a more mainstream concept.

Even though it is so obvious it's painful, Penguin should still be applauded for giving ebooks the big thumbs up. It will make 200 books available straight off and more will be released each month.

If you don't know what the hell ebooks are, they are simply downloadable, readable versions of books. They require a piece of software to read and the two main ones are Adobe's Acrobat eBook reader and Microsoft's Reader. Recent advances in rendering technology have made the books far more readable.

The advantages to eBooks are that they are far cheaper to produce since you only need one file (well, you know, in theory) which everyone can download. Hence cheaper overheads and thus, hopefully, cheaper books - Penguin will sell its ebooks 20 per cent cheaper than its printed versions. There is also no need for it to ever be out of print.

Then you have computer technology that lets you search the book very quickly and also add your electronic notes to it if you like. It makes books instantly available to anyone in the world. Young authors can get immediately noticed. Many books can be contained in one portable reader. The publishing industry will become more competitive. And so on.

The problems are that it's still not nice to read long tracts of text on a backlit screen. Plus, apart from PDAs of course, you will only get them on your PC or laptop. That would soon change if ebooks became ubiquitous but in the meantime it's a bit annoying (there are dedicated readers on the market but they are a little pricey).

To tie in with the announcement, Penguin has revamped its Penguin.co.uk site. We have to say we quite like it.

Or course if you want to know what a real e-publisher is rather than get caught up in simply following the big publishers, you could do worse than visit Jim Baen's site here. His approach and philosophy to ebooks is here. ®

Related Links

Penguin.co.uk
Baen.com

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