Leading Brit publishers to go digital with ebooks

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London, Feb 17 : Reading a bestseller would now be only a matter of a hand-held screen of your computer, if Britain's two best selling publishers are successful in launching a device that could lead to the electronic "ebook."

Random House and Hachette, which together control just over 30 percent of the British book market, will be offering downloadable versions of titles by authors ranging from Delia Smith to Ian McEwan and Michael Parkinson.

The publishers' move came after the launch of two rival devices due to come on sale in Britain over the next few months - Sony's Reader and Amazon's Kindle.

They allow hundreds of novels to be downloaded from publishers' or retailers' websites into a lightweight, pocket-sized device costing about 200 pounds.

Pages are turned by touch rather than by fiddling with buttons, and words consist of black chemical "e-ink" showing through a white surface rather than light glaring from an ordinary computer screen.

"The traditional book will not be dead, nor will bookshops, but this is a major change, with so many titles from now on available as ebooks and with the technology so much better," Times Online quoted Fionnuala Duggan, head of the digital division at Random House, as saying.

"We hope that there will be inter-operability in other words, that the ebook will work on any device," said Duggan.

Publishers are being cautious about how far ebooks will displace the paper version, partly because of the many false dawns for computerised books.

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