NEW YORK — Straight from the pages of science fiction, electronic books will land in the public's eye this fall with promises of searchable text and the ability to hold the equivalent of 10, if not hundreds, of volumes in a portable device weighing only a few pounds.
Books that have been taken out of print could soon be available electronically. Readers frustrated by the minuscule type on the pages will be able to increase the size to their comfort level.
This fall, NuvoMedia Inc., based in Palo Alto, will launch the Rocket eBook, a small, 20-ounce device the size and shape of a paperback, complete with a stylus for highlighting text.
Also this fall, Softbook Press of Menlo Park, Calif., will bring out a 3-pound device that will hold up to 100,000 pages of text. Early next year, Middletown, Pa.-based Everybook Inc. will produce the EB Dedicated Reader, a 4-pound book-like device that when closed is the size of a sheet of paper and when open is capable of electronically duplicating a book's layout, including text and graphics. Although portable, these readers weigh the same as many of today's laptop computers.
Company officials emphasize they aren't trying to replace the book, but want to give people an additional reading option.
"The book, as we know it, has existed for 1,500 years," said Everybook President Dan Munyan. "There's nothing wrong with it. Not one feature of the book has to be given up."
All three companies will allow people to download texts from the Internet onto their devices, although the Rocket eBook, with the smallest capacity of the three, downloads the text via a PC, then on to the electronic book.
All three tout the screens on their devices, saying they are easy on the eyes and are reader-friendly. They all are using encryption technology, making it extremely difficult for someone to copy the electronic text.
And that has helped entice publishers.
"We see it as more than just an experiment," said Ted Nardin, group vice president for professional publishing at McGraw Hill in New York. "Someday, this is going to be widely accepted."
Jonathan Guttenberg, a vice president of new media at New York-based Random House, said he is also very excited about the new breed of electronic books, which he said are easier to use than previous prototypes.
Despite their enthusiasm, neither would say which texts might be available electronically this fall.
The creators of the electronic books are also close-mouthed. Martin Eberhard, chief executive officer of NuvoMedia, said the company had received a number of top titles from 12 publishers to use for trials, though he would not be more specific.
What's likely to appear, however, is a smattering of consumer titles and several professional titles as the companies try to attract early users.
Among the most likely possibilities: business texts, such as tax-related publications that must be constantly updated as new rulings are released. The college textbook market is also a likely target, as companies try to persuade students to carry the portable e-book rather than a heavy textbook.