E-book maker waits on Web to debut device

Franklin Electronic Publishers is putting off the launch of its new eBookMan device because of delays related to its Web site, a company spokeswoman tells CNET News.com.

Franklin Electronic Publishers is putting off the launch of its new eBookMan device because of delays related to its Web site, a company spokeswoman told CNET News.com Friday.

The delay could mean that Franklin will miss much of the Christmas shopping season.

The Burlington, N.J.-based company had expected to unveil its eBookMan line this week at retail outlets nationwide, including Staples and Office Depot, according to Jackie Newell of Global Communications and Television, the public relations company representing Franklin.

Instead, the devices may not be released until the end of the year, Newell added.

She explained that the devices are ready to ship but depend on software and other services that will be available only through the company's Web site, forcing Franklin to reschedule the launch.

"Since the Web site wasn't live yet, you weren't going to get any of the applications," Newell said.

Nevertheless, Franklin executive vice president Greg Winsky said that the company would be demonstrating the eBookMan in "beta," or test, format next week at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas. Winsky declined to comment on the delay of the product's release.

With a 240-by-200-pixel LCD display, the eBookMan is designed to download books, audio books and MP3 files from the Internet, as well as to synchronize personalized information with Microsoft Outlook. In June, the company announced that it would work with Microsoft to incorporate Microsoft Reader into Franklin's new line of multimedia e-book devices.

Franklin is expected to ship three eBookMan models at $129.95, $179.95 and $229.95. The lower-end model includes 8MB of RAM; the $179.95 offering adds backlight, an enhanced LCD display and a variety of applications and content. The $229.95 product features 16MB of RAM and additional content downloads as well as an enhanced backlit display.

Franklin's eBookMan line joins several companies offering e-book technology, including Adobe Systems, Glassbook, Softbook Press and Peanut Press. Competition in this area has heated up since Stephen King released his wildly successful novella "Riding the Bullet" over the Internet this summer, getting 400,000 downloads during a free promotion.

Still, consumer demand for e-books has yet to be widely demonstrated.

Analysts have said that although publishers may be gearing up to enter a new editorial marketplace, the technology may be far ahead of demand.

Fewer than 50,000 electronic reading devices have been sold in the United States, according to Internet researcher Jupiter Media Metrix. Sales will limp along through 2005, the research company predicts, reaching just 1.9 million--far too few to sustain a market.

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