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Microsoft, Time Warner Unveil Web Book Plans


NEW YORK — Time Warner Inc. and Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday unveiled separate electronic-book publishing plans, underscoring the importance of that burgeoning business to traditional and new-media companies.

Time Warner, which is being bought by America Online Inc., is forming a unit to produce books just for the Internet.

Microsoft, meanwhile, formed agreements with Viacom Inc.'s Simon & Schuster, Bertelsmann's Random House and Inc. to make certain popular titles available for free downloading to users of its Reader software on Pocket PCs.

The unit of Time Warner will be the first dedicated Web-publishing venture from a U.S. book publisher, the company said.

Analysts said electronic books haven't caught on yet, partly because there is a lack of material from well-known authors. They also say electronic text is difficult to read, something Microsoft is trying to remedy with its software.

Microsoft's Reader uses a technology called ClearType that allows for easier reading of small text. The software is now shipped on Pocket PCs made by Hewlett-Packard Co., Casio Computer Co. and Compaq Computer Corp., though eventually it will be part of other devices, the company said.

The world's largest software maker, which is trying to partner with publishing companies and booksellers, said it will make 15 "Star Trek" titles from Simon & Schuster and Random House's "Timeline" by Michael Crichton available for free downloading through

It also said Time Warner's new unit will use the Reader software as one of its online book distribution formats.

Time Warner stressed, though, that the new arrangement isn't exclusive.

"We want to be platform-agnostic," said Gregory Voynow, senior vice president and general manager at Time Warner Trade Publishing, which includes the Little, Brown & Co. publishing house.

The publishing industry was caught off guard in March by the high demand for author Stephen King's online novel, "Riding the Bullet," also published by Simon & Schuster.

Time Warner told reporters at a separate news conference in New York that will be part of the company's Time Warner Books division. The venture will start early next year and focus on new ways to produce, distribute and sell fiction and nonfiction created specifically for the Web, the company said.

Time Warner shares fell $1.88 to close at $74.25 on the New York Stock Exchange, and Microsoft closed down $1 at $63.19 on Nasdaq.

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