Microsoft Debuts E-Book Reader for PCs

Software giant Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) launched its Microsoft Reader software for PCs Tuesday, significantly expanding the audience for electronic publications.

The company first released the reader, pre-loaded in its handheld Pocket PCs, in March. The release to a wider PC audience comes after the company inked contracts with Barnesandnoble.com and iPublish, Time Warner’s upcoming online venture, to sell titles in the Microsoft Reader format.

Barnesandnoble.com opened a Microsoft Reader online retail bookstore to coincide with the software release. The store will begin selling 2,000 titles in the Reader format and add 150 new titles every week.

Key Support from Publishers

A number of major U.S. publishing houses have also lined up in support of Microsoft Reader, offering a future market for the application. Microsoft said Tuesday that Random House and Simon & Shuster are making best-selling titles available in the Reader format.

“This is a major milestone for the publishing industry and book lovers alike,” said Microsoft Vice President Dick Brass.

Declaration of War

In a separate announcement, Microsoft said that it will fund a major initiative by the Association of American Publishers to fight e-book piracy.

The industry group, which represents 250 members, including most of the major publishing houses, vowed with Microsoft to unleash a three-pronged campaign of education, encryption and enforcement to combat e-book piracy.

Microsoft said it will provide a “significant financial endowment” to mount the campaign and will also provide new technology to identify illegal content on the Web.

“Piracy is not a question of ‘if,’ but rather ‘when,'” said Brass. “No technology is immune to it. The key is having a comprehensive plan to counter it at every level and minimize the threat.”

A King’s Ransom

Industry analysts say it is difficult to gauge how widespread the piracy problem might be, but best-selling author Stephen King is taking a unique approach to fighting it.

King has been experimenting with self-publication on the Internet. His first Internet-only book, “Riding the Bullet,” garnered 400,000 orders in the first 24 hours of its March release.

The author recently released the first installment of a new novel for download to PCs, asking readers to send payments of $1 (US$) per episode, on the honor system.

King stated that he would make the first two episodes available “no matter what,” and if 75 percent of those who download them send in payments, then he will proceed with publication of future installments. The first episode has reportedly been downloaded more than 150,000 times, with 76 percent of the downloaders agreeing to pay.

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