by Reuters October 14, 1999, 3:41 p.m. PT
By the year 2006, electronic news kiosks will allow people to download newspapers and magazines onto electronic reading devices.
By the year 2010, the devices will be lightweight, have flexible screens and run on 24-hour batteries. By the year 2018, newspapers on paper could become extinct.
The future is electronic, the past is paper--that is the message delivered at the world's biggest book fair by Dick Brass, vice-president of technology development at Microsoft.
He speaks with the fervor of an electronic crusader, selling the Microsoft Reader, a new piece of software that allows files formatted for print to be displayed or downloaded on a printer.
He says he even uses the Reader to read in bed at night without disturbing his wife.
On Thursday, Microsoft announced it is joining forces with Penguin Books to put out a series of 1000 classic books on Microsoft Reader which will be available early next year in English, and later on in other languages.
Microsoft boasts that its Reader device "brings to the screen exactly what we all love about books: clean, crisp type, traditional layout and an uncluttered format."
Affordable and Educational
Brass, proudly waving his handheld computer with a screen full of sharp and clear text, says a book now costing $30 could cost $5 on the Reader "because you won't be paying for the paper, for the ink, for the transport, and the books sent back unsold."
Brass sees the Microsoft Reader as a major boon to the Third World, because it would boost literacy. Every village would be able to afford its own electronic library, he says.
There is nothing ironic about Brass singing the praises of the electronic Microsoft Reader at the world's biggest book fair, which has attracted 6,600 publishers from 115 countries. One in four of the exhibitors offers electronic publications.
The publishing industry, given a boost by the sharp rise of online book sales through companies like Amazon.com, sees the Internet as a friend and not a foe.
As a sign of changing times, Microsoft announced at the fair a new $100,000 literary award to "promote excellence in the eBook industry."
Bill Gates, chairman and CEO of Microsoft, said in a statement: "We are delighted to be able to recognize and celebrate achievement in writing."
"The widespread availability of great electronic titles will not only help the young eBook industry, it will also help encourage literacy and the love of reading, learning, and knowledge," according to Gates.
Whatever new inventions may appear on the horizon in the next millennium, publishers still feel the book has its place.
As Frankfurt Book Fair chairman Hubertus Schenkel says, "The fascination of
reading a book cannot be replaced by a laptop, most certainly not on the
beach or on a cozy evening."
© 1999 Kiosks.Org.