Literature goes digital at Geneva Book Fair

A ground-breaking innovation on show at the Geneva Book Fair is the e-book, an on-line book the size of a paperback, but which contains the equivalent of a small library.

This content was published on May 5, 2000 - 11:03

Currently, there are only two kinds of e-book on the market - the Rocket e-Book and the Softbook - and they are only available in the United States. But later both will be launched in Europe, along with the first European-produced e-book, made by the French firm Cytale.

The current generation of e-books weigh around 600 grammes and can hold up to 40,000 pages - the equivalent of around 30 conventional novels. The newer models will be lighter, smarter and have a bigger capacity.

E-books often include a dictionary, which can find the definition of a word simply by touching it. The reader is also able to bookmark a page, underline a passage, and even turn the text 180 degrees so that right- and left-handed people can use it equally easily.

Inevitably, there have been predictions that the e-book will spell the death of the conventional book. Nevertheless, the organisers of the Book Fair have decided to embrace this new medium.

"It's inconceivable that a fair that's open to all new communications techniques wouldn't want to exhibit the e-book," says Robert Junod of the organising committee. "At the moment people know very little about it, but I'm sure that anyone who finds out what it can do will be very excited."

Junod doesn't see the e-book as a threat to the conventional paper variety. "I think the traditional book will remain, and will continue to enjoy great success - you only have to look at the sales at this fair" Junod told Swissinfo. "But the e-book is something that will add something to literature. It will allow people to perhaps rediscover certain books."

The French company,, is the first publishing house in Europe to provide access to digital books over the Internet - the means by which you fill up your e-book. The new models coming onto the market all have built-in modems, allowing readers to download their required reading directly from the Internet. has some 500 titles available, and expects that number to grow as more authors choose to have their works published in both formats. Of course, the technology doesn't stop at books. Already the e-newspaper is being developed, enabling users to download the latest news each morning.

The developers believe the new technology will be a godsend to lawyers, doctors and journalists, who'll no longer have to rely on bulky reference tomes and files. Instead, the shelves of reference material will be replaced with a single, manageable machine that can be updated regularly. It will also be useful for holidaymakers, or people who commute regularly.

by Roy Probert

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