Readers Fall Asleep Over New E-Books




SAN JOSE, California -- Americans just aren't opting to relax with an electronic book these days.


Less than a year after the first two of the portable devices arrived on the market, sales are slow, funding is tough to find and potential competitors are dropping out.


"These e-reader companies now have a pretty sober understanding that this market is going to take some time,'' said Glenn Sanders, a founder of eBooknet.com, an online site with information about electronic books.


Electronic books are about the same size as a regular book, but can hold more than 10 conventional books, magazines or newspapers at a time.


New texts can be downloaded, and stories can be annotated and searched for words or phrases. Pages are turned with a push of a button.


As many as a dozen companies have tried to bring some form of electronic book to market for years. Only two have made it: Rocket eBook, now selling for $349, and SoftBook, which costs $599.


Neither SoftBook nor NuvoMedia will disclose actual figures, but Sanders estimates that only a few thousand of the devices have sold so far.


"It's been disappointing, but we think this market is going to take off, and when it does, we'll still be here,'' said Martin Eberhard, co-founder and CEO of NuvoMedia, the company making Rocket eBooks.


The biggest challenge, electronic book makers agree, is getting publishers to convert lots of books to their format.


"We can't sell an electronic book without a lot of content, but publishers aren't going to produce a lot of content if there aren't people using it on electronic books,'' SoftBook Press chief executive Jim Sachs said in Menlo Park, California.


Publishers have been concerned that electronic versions of their material would be pirated and flood the Internet like illegally distributed music.


Only 1,000 titles f mostly older classics f are available for electronic books, well below the approximately 45,000 new titles released in paper last year alone.