October 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio October 2000 Current Issue
October 2000 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:




These new digital reading tools make it easier to take your reading on the road

I am what is called an early-adapter someone who buys new electronic toys as soon as they hit the market. My first notebook computer, bought in the late ’80s, was a “Kris” from a little-known Santa Fe company; it was put together while I waited. I’ve had a DVD player for four years. But my latest purchase NuvoMedia’s Rocket eBook has turned into my best investment.

I travel a lot, and as my laptop became lighter, my briefcase got heavier because I was able to fit in more business books, magazines and the occasional novel. The Rocket has lightened that load.

The 22-ounce, 5-by-7-inch device is not much bigger than an average paperback. It has backlighting, so I can read in the dark without disturbing anyone. It is loaded with two novels, two business books, Fast Company magazine, Esquire stories, some industry newsletters, a dictionary and a thesaurus. The Rocket cost me $269 from Barnes & Noble (bought online, of course), and the books cost a little less than their printed versions.

The primary competitor of the Rocket eBook is the SoftBook Reader 200, which costs around $599, is larger 8 inches by 8 inches, providing a 9.5-inch diagonal reading area vs. the Rocket’s 5.5 inches weighs in at 2.9 pounds and uses a phone line to download new books (the Rocket works through your PC or Mac). It is bigger and heavier but has a wider list of available newspapers and magazines than the Rocket.

These devices aren’t only for downloading text. Both models recognize the “graffiti” or shorthand data-entry style used with the Palm-OS, so you can make notes or annotate articles. You can bookmark passages in the material and search using keywords or topics of interest.

The eBooks also include library-management software, so you can transfer books and publications to your PC for future reference as well as to print out sections.

Several significant events are changing the landscape of eBooks. One is the formation of an industry group, the Open eBook Forum, to determine a standard format for publishing secure, nonpiratable publications.

On the tech side, upcoming releases of the SoftBook and Rocket will add scheduling and address storage. And Microsoft has entered the game. Until recently, to download a book, you needed a reader one of the above gizmos, a Pocket PC or WIN/CE device. Now Microsoft offers Reader software for computer downloads. It simulates the pleasure of reading (it even “turns” pages).

Such programs turn computers into libraries. These readers usually are free you buy the books and will soon be available for PDA devices like the Palm Pilot. In August, announced it will offer an eBook store mainly selling Microsoft Reader titles.

So, other than reducing chiropractic bills, how do eBooks affect the life of a meeting professional? Several ways. For example, as a standard emerges for the encryption format, you could publish agendas, session synopses and speaker profiles on your Web site for downloading.

The complete proceedings or the meeting’s technical papers can even be published in this format. Associations could sell or rent the devices along with subscriptions to digital versions of their publications. There are services that take standard HTML or PDF files and convert them for use on the reader devices.

To explore this technology, visit (, (, SoftBook ( or go to Barnes & Noble ( and select the eBooks tab.

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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