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German ebook firm pushes cheapo ereaders into US drug stores

The txtr, sir? It's in the laxatives aisle

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US book distributor ReaderLink will be pushing German firm txtr's impossibly cheap ereader into US grocery and drug stores, launching a new cloud platform which will also support the devices. The cheap ereaders cost a mere €10 on this side of the pond, but dollar pricing has not yet been announced.

Txtr's Beagle ereader was announced back in October and has been looking for commercial partners ever since. In America that partner will be ReaderLink, a company which already provides books to thousands of grocery and drug stores across America which have hitherto been excluded from the digital revolution.

The ReaderLink plan is to host a cloud locker for books, which can then be read on any device including the bargain-basement txtr Beagle or similar. The company supplies paper books to 24,000 stores and plans to push txtr's bookstore, and hardware, to those retailers.

Berlin-based txtr has been busy stocking the shelves of its virtual store, and now has more than half a million English titles, as well decent catalogues in several other languages. The English-language content is protected with Adobe's DRM (Digital Rights Management) which means electronic books can be viewed on just about any kind of ereader with the notable exception of Amazon's Kindle.

But it is txtr's hardware which has caught the eye - a five-inch ereader which depends on a smartphone to manage and render its content, but costs only €10. The device has a battery life of about a year.

The txtr Beagle achieves this by storing only images of the pages, not the text, which means one can't resize the font or search on the reader, and the device can only store a handful of books, but the outstanding battery life and low cost make those limitations acceptable if txtr can get the smartphone software sorted out.

Currently, for example, one can't delete books - not until the device is full - and with half a dozen PDFs on the device (copied using the Smartphone app), navigation becomes all but impossible as they all have the same name and icon. But epub files work perfectly, and while we never managed to get a (DRM-protected) library book transferred, we did manage to copy various epub titles from phone to reader.

Navigation is limited to four buttons: power, forward, back and enter, with the Bluetooth connection triggered by holding down the power button. Everything else is done using the smartphone app (Android or iOS). The reader is a joy to use, with the pair of AA batteries weighting down the bottom edge and the only significant power drain occurring when the smartphone app is managing the content - to the point where even after a month's intense use we're not able to measure the drain.

But that €10 price is dependent on some subsidy, though txtr won't say how much, and the company has been hawking the concept around mobile network operators for the last few months in the hope of getting one of them to stump up the cash in exchange for a cut of book sales. That's a work in progress, but in the US the company seems to have found a friend in ReaderLink - though today's agreement only covers the cloud store and a promise to sell "an affordable eReader" in rotating wire racks at some point. Nevertheless, it's a significant development for txtr and might convince a telco or two to take idea more seriously. ®

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