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Overdrive's eBook shift

With its BookWorks software, the company is looking to capitalize on the budding electronic book market.

Tech Industry
Overdrive Systems is looking to capitalize on the budding electronic book market by taking out the electronic book.

Unlike other electric book vendors, whose eBooks consist of an integrated hardware/software unit, Overdrive is promoting BookWorks, a software-only system that will allow consumers to use Microsoft Windows-based devices as a reading device. With the software installed, users can then read, or distribute, books. The software package can also be used to transform regular books to electronic versions.

The appeal of the product, says the company, comes in the ubiquity of the Windows platform. A large portion of consumers already own Windows machines. Publishers, therefore, have a pre-existing base of consumers.

"We're not asking people to make an investment in a limited market," said Overdrive president Steve Potash. Instead, Overdrive offers "a robust product that you can deliver to a worldwide audience."

Although the proposition of digital books is attractive to publishers for its lower overhead, analysts remain skeptical.

Less than five percent of mobile professionals would use one of the new electronic book handheld devices, such as the RocketBook from NuvoMedia, according to Sherwood Research.

"The last thing they need is another handheld," said Sherwood Research mobile computing analyst David Thor.

But Thor said the Overdrive approach is a step in the right direction. "For the class of citizen that they're aiming this at, this is appropriate," he said.

Thor added that copyright issues continue to plague the electronic book market. Different methods are being developed to protect copyrights, such as publishing houses selling one chapter at a time, but it remains a hot issue.

Overdrive's BookWorks package includes a Web browser, developed with Microsoft's Internet Explorer technology, said Potash. Cleveland-based Overdrive has had a development relationship with Microsoft for about 10 years, he said. Microsoft, meanwhile, has joined a slew of major publishing firms, electronics manufacturers, and others who are working to establish a set of open standards for the emerging industry. (See related story.)

The customizable BookWorks browser provides navigation and searchability of the book or document, as well as a connection to the Web, so the eBook can be hyperlinked.

The BookWorks package can also be used to replicate Web sites offline. A company, for instance, could condense and replicate its entire Web site onto a CD.

Overdrive demonstrated titles developed in the BookWorks environment this week at the world's largest book fair in Frankfurt, Germany.

Although publishers are teaming up with the company, the best seller list seems to be eluding the company so far. One of the books demonstrated on BookWorks in Frankfurt was, "Wake Up Your Call Center: How to Be a Better Call Center Agent," by Rosanne D'Ausilio, from Purdue University Press.

The standard BookWorks package for corporations sells for $1,495.

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