Microsoft Misses Boat With eBooks

At this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, portable digital music players will be one of the top attractions.

However, music is not the only content that these machines are capable of playing. For instance, it has been reported that Wayne, New Jersey-based Audible, Inc. will announce agreements with several huge consumer electronics manufacturers to make its large selection of novels, speeches and other spoken-word material available for these new hand-held devices.

Philips Electronics NV, Sanyo Electric Co., Toshiba Corp., and Panasonic all plan to ship Audible software bundled with their soon-to-hit-the-market players that can download music and audio content from the Internet.

Consumers Love Audio Books

Audible stands to benefit if online buyers develop the same appetite for downloaded audio books that many consumers currently have for books on tape.

Additionally, Audible claims that the new handheld devices offer some advantages for spoken-word programming over music. For instance, while a handheld unit with 64 megabytes of memory can store up to an hour of high-quality music, it can store as much as 28 hours of spoken word material.

Market Has Been Small

So far, the audience for Audible’s material has been small, despite the fact that 9,000 customers have downloaded content from its Web site. However, on the plus side, the company has formed many exclusive partnerships to distribute material from about 130 content providers via the Internet.

Reading Versus Listening

Meanwhile, software giant Microsoft Corp. and online bookseller barnesandnoble.com also announced this week that they plan to sell paperless books that can be read on handheld devices using Microsoft’s new Reader software.

This so-called “eBook initiative” will provide access to thousands of book titles for customers of barnesandnoble.com though a software application that is designed to convert print to paper-based quality on a computer screen or hand-held device.

“We envision a time in the not too distant future when there will be electronic versions of virtually every book in print,” Vice Chairman of Barnes & Noble Steve Riggio said in a statement.

Microsoft claims to already have deals with such publishers as Penguin Books and R.R. Donnelley & Sons to convert print titles into electronic books.

Are The Masses Ready For Electronic Books?

While Microsoft’s concept sounds good in theory, it is my opinion that downloadable audio books from the Internet will catch on much faster.

Based on purely anecdotal observations, I find that more people are opting to listen to books rather than read them. That trend seems especially apparent among busy Generation X-ers who would rather reach out to audio and multimedia formats than read.

So, I think once again that Microsoft has missed the boat with its outdated approach to disseminating information to the masses, while startup Audible appears to be right on the money.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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