The weight of the 1200 is 2 pounds, 1 ounce--about double the 1100 but still lighter than the latest Harry Potter book, which tips the scales at 2 1/2 pounds. The screen is 8.2 inches diagonally and the battery will last for five to 10 hours.
Although the screen displays color graphics and pictures with clarity, black-and-white text is not nearly as sharp as on the 1100.
The supplier of books for both the 1100 and 1200 will be Gemstar's own bookselling operation, reached directly by plugging the devices' modems directly into phone jacks.
Thousands of Titles
Books for the devices will be available on the Web at Barnes & Noble (http://www.bn.com) or Powell's Books (http://www.powells.com), both of which have special e-book sections that will offer thousands of titles for the RCA models. After the order is made and the customer's code number entered, the book will automatically be downloaded the next time the device's modem hooks up with Gemstar.
Pricing of the electronic books has not been finalized, according to Gemstar officials, but most newly released hardbacks will sell for about the same in either traditional or electronic formats. The major exception is hardbacks from Time Warner Trade Publishing (including Warner Books and Little, Brown and Co.), which will mostly sell for a set price of $14.95 in electronic versions.
That's a savings of $6.56 compared with the hardback price of the upcoming James Patterson crime novel, "Roses Are Red," for example.
Don't expect to find much serious literature for the RCA model, at least not at first. A search for books by Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison and Saul Bellow came up empty. The only hit on "Hemingway" was Collins Hemingway, co-author of the Bill Gates book "Business at the Speed of Thought."
The third reader on display was the eBookMan from Franklin Electronic Publishers, which for several years has put out small electronic readers holding specific books such as the Bible. The eBookMan, which will be available in three configurations at different price levels ($129, $179 and $249), looks similar to a personal organizer such as a Palm, and can download and play audio books.
The eBookMan is thin and, at 7 ounces, by far the lightest of the three readers coming out in November. But its 4 3/8-inch screen presents the most formidable challenge to reading.
Owners of the eBookMan will be able to buy, from a variety of online retailers, only those books that have been put in the Microsoft Reader format. Prices vary considerably. One of the current best-sellers in that format is Jackie Collins' "Lethal Seduction," available at http://www.bn.com for $1. The hard-bound version of the book on the same site goes for $20.80, and it's not yet available in paperback.
Robert Ludlum's "The Hades Factor" costs $15.95 to download in Reader format, which is a bargain compared with the $24.76 price for a hardback. But a paperback of the book is available on the site for $14.35.
One of the institutions bound to feel the major effects of e-books is libraries. At the conference, Qihao Miao, deputy director of the Shanghai Library, joked that the industry leaders on one of his panels "are the beneficiaries of the e-book.
"On the contrary," he said, "I am the potential victim."
He worried that many parts of the world will not share in the digital book revolution--if it comes at all. "If people do not have enough money to buy a book," Miao said, "I don't think they will be able to buy an electronic book."
In this country, some libraries have already begun to experiment with lending e-books loaded with titles. The main library in Charlotte, N.C., has 10 Rocket e-books it lends for two weeks at a time. "It's mostly popular titles--'Angela's Ashes,' 'Memoirs of a Geisha'--in fiction, and nonfiction like 'The Greatest Generation,' " said the coordinator of the project, Robin Bryan.
"The public has been very pleased with [e-books]," Bryan said. "Some people say they don't think they would ever like such a thing, but if they try it, they get used to it. Some want to renew it."
And Bryan sees electronic collections, especially of public domain classics, as being a particular advantage for small libraries.
'A Return to the Scroll'
This particularly worries Bloom, who has spent a lifetime championing the detailed, thoughtful reading of the classics. "One of the major advances in the history of Western culture was when we went from the handwritten scroll to what was called a codex, a printed page that was bound," he said. "The e-book is a return to the scroll, a return of just holding one page at a time in your hands.
"The screen is a scroll."
As for the enhancements e-books offer, such as a search function, Bloom thinks they are more dangerous than useful. "Thinking is dependent on memory, and if you have to rely on some kind of device to do all your remembering for you, your memory will go bare. You will not be able to think clearly and well."
Finally, he argued that the only truly deep reading comes out of a personal, intimate relationship with a book.
"You can never be really alone with an e-book," Bloom said. "The technology--a downloading device, buttons, power source--takes away from the internal process of reading.
"If you are in search of information, go ahead and get an e-book. If you want to drown yourself in information, there is the Internet.
"But if you are longing for wisdom, you need a real book."