Barnes & Noble, Microsoft promote digital books

Microsoft has announced a partnership with book retailer Barnes & Noble that the companies said will greatly increase the use of electronic books.

Barnes & Noble will open a new area at its online bookstore, barnesandnoble.com, where users will be able to download digital versions of books and magazines for reading on their PCs, notebooks, handheld computers, or on an emerging class of devices called electronic books, company officials said.

Users will be able to read the downloaded material using a Microsoft program called the Microsoft Reader. The Reader includes technology developed by Microsoft called ClearType, which the software maker says can improve the resolution of on-screen text by as much as a factor of three.

Speaking at a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show here, Barnes & Noble officials said they hope to have the first digital downloads available by mid-year. Within 10 years, all print titles will be available in electronic form as well as in traditional paper versions, the officials predicted.

The site will open new opportunities for the publishing industry to sell books, allowing customers to preview one chapter of a book before they buy it, for example, the officials said.

"I still find it exciting that when people think this $28 billion book industry has run out of gas, here comes another revolution," said Steve Riggio, Barnes & Noble vice chairman.

Microsoft recently announced a similar deal with online bookstore fatbrain.com Inc., which specializes in technical publications.

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