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Penguin goes electronic

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Pearson, the publishing company that owns Penguin books, will be releasing e-book versions of all Penguin, Dorling Kindersley, and Travel titles from September this year.

The launch range of e-books will include Penguin's back catalogue of 5,000 titles, which is already being digitised. The e-book versions will cost the same as their dead-tree equivalents.

The idea of electronic books has been around for decades, but recent innovations in screen technology have removed one of the most significant barriers to adoption - the quality of the reading experience.

These days, the potential market is split between those who believe a book is an object that must be revered and treasured, and those who will happily turn down the corner of the page as they chuck a paperback into their satchel: e-books are never going to appeal to the former group, but are finding a niche within the latter.

E-book readers might still only be black and white, but they should also be green: iRex, maker of the Iliad e-book, says printing a 60 page document will generate 328.8g of carbon, while reading the same document on a device reduces that to .25g. So electronic books should be more environmentally sound, and cheaper, as there's no printing costs to cover.

Customers used to receiving a physical object for their cash won't pay the same for an electronic equivalent, nor should they be asked to. The print version of Legacy of Ashes will set you back £17.50 (RRP £25) from Amazon, but the electronic version (through Mobipocket) costs only £9 - enough of a difference to consider.

Penguin isn't saying what formats the e-books will be available in, or if they'll be using any copy-protection technology to stop people emailing them around the place, but books are even more difficult to protect than music and, if anything, more prone to piracy.

Digital director Genevieve Shore said: "We are very excited by the opportunities our digital publishing programme is presenting. The simultaneous publication of our physical and e-editions is an important step".

Having the back catalogue available in electronic form makes sense, but the fact that Penguin plans to charge the same amount for both paper and electronic versions seems to indicate a lack of understanding, or confidence, in the electronic distribution business model. ®

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