Anyone thinking of purchasing a hardware eBook reader should be extremely wary. The devices are expensive with prices as high as $700. With this large initial outlay, one would think that electronic publishers would be taking advantage of near-zero publication costs to heavily discount the books themselves. Sadly, most seem to be selling at paper-publication prices quoting the cost of setting up the new technology required for electronic publication and sales as the cause.

        Visit the freeware archive Poetry In Translation and you will find a range of texts available for free.  I speak from personal experience when I say that neither the skills, nor the technology required are beyond the reach of the average independent publisher. The proprietary standards of the present hardware eBooks are being used  to "persuade" customers to buy at high prices from specific, affiliated publishers. It is recommended that potential buyers wait until OpenEBook (OEB) compliant readers, and freeware development tools are widely available. This should enable an OEB file to be converted onto any compliant hardware reader. Be particularly wary however of companies similar to Gemstar who claim OEB compliance but prevent through restrictive hardware, the access of any texts beyond those from affiliated publishers.


The Rocket eBook - one of the first dedicated hardware eBook readers on the market. Originally owned by Nuvomedia, the Rocket eBook enterprise was an enlightened exercise in how to bring independent publishers into the fold. The Rocket Library was created as a free public archive where aspiring authors everywhere could publish their work online for the Rocket community. The merger of Rocket eBook and Softbook to form Gemstar however led to a more short-sighted strategy. All freeware development tools have been withdrawn, and the Rocket Library is defunct.. 

Softbook - this device hit the market alongside the Rocket eBook. Whilst freeware publishing tools were available, the lack of  a freeware archive similar to the Rocket Library has given the device only short-lived success. Part of the Gemstar corporation, Softbook is unlikely to have any lasting market presence.

The REB 1100 and 1200 - technically impressive eBook devices developed by the new company formed from Nuvomedia and Softbook.. The REB 1200 is cutting edge when released and could be the first eBook device to provide a reading experience comparable if not superior to the printed page. Sadly, Gemstar have decided to restrict access to all texts bar those sold from specific Gemstar affiliated publishers. Despite compliance with the OEB standard, this will mean that  you will be limited to the releases of one or two online publishers selling at inflated prices.

Franklin's eBookMan 900, 901 and 911 - the eBookMan is a multimedia content player offering a robust feature set and an optimal display screen at an affordable price. All three eBookMan models have a large 200 x 240 pixel LCD that displays 87 percent more pixels than a typical handheld. Features include synchronization of personal  information with Microsoft Outlook, the recording and playback of voice memos, natural handwriting recognition and the capability to read eBooks in the Microsoft Reader file format as well as the playback of audio books.

Franklin have obviously planned their strategy carefully. Not only have they produced a device that supports all the more commonly used features of traditional PDAs, but they have also picked an open eBook format for which freeware publication tools are already available. They are to be commended for such an intelligent approach.


Mobipocket - whilst not strictly a hardware eBook reader, the Mobipocket software enables an owner of virtually any PC or PDA to access Mobipocket texts. A free version of the reader software can be downloaded for PC, MACOS, Palm, Psion (EPOC systems), Pocket PC, Casion, HP COMPAQ and the Franklin eBookMan! Furthermore Mobipocket offer a free publishing package enabling the production of OEB files which can then be compiled within the publisher into Microsoft Reader or Mobipocket formats. Greater functionality can be purchased by upgrading the publisher software. In a similar vein Mobipocket run an electronic library off their site enabling download of both free and purchasable texts. An automatic eNews system is also available.

With enterprises like Mobipocket gaining momentum the ideal of an open standard for eBooks becomes more and more viable. It is to be hoped that eventually OEB compliant reader software and hardware will approach the functionality available now with .pdf files and software such as the Adobe Acrobat Reader.