Toshiba Sells E-books While Amazon Puts Kindle In A Browser

Don't get too excited when you hear the term "Kindle for the Web."  It's true that Amazon is making its Kindle book store visible through your browser but it's only letting you see previews, the first chapter of any given title. Meanwhile, Toshiba is also joining the ranks of e-book publisher with the launch of its store and free e-reader for Windows. 

With Kindle for the Web, bloggers and website owners can embed a book preview into their sites (a function Google Books has offered for a year). They'll earn referral fees from Amazon when customers take the bait and buy the full version for their Kindles. Kindle for the Web will include many a feature from the e-reader. Users can change the font size and line spacing, adjust the background color. And of course, they can help promote the book -- sharing it via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail.

Toshiba has decided it's not to be outdone by the likes of Kindle, or of the bulging tablet market, e-readers all, or even by the new e-readers and bookstores planned by rival Sharp. On Tuesday, Toshiba launched its own e-book store, Book Place, and is offering a free Windows e-reader to all comers, available for XP, Vista or Windows 7. In truth, the book store is just a front end to Toshiba's e-books partner, K-NFB Reading Technology. (An interesting aside: K-NFB is a joint venture between famous inventor Ray Kurzweil's company and the National Federation for the Blind.)

Toshiba's e-reader is a re-branded version of K-NFB's new e-reader Blio, also launched on Tuesday. Free versions are available now for Windows. Versions are promised soon for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Silverlight. (Yes, Silverlight -- Blio really loves Microsoft. Flash and .Net are already required.)

K-NFB has developed yet another e-book format, XPS. It's claim to fame is that it can add video and audio enhancements to an e-book. Audio encoding is especially appealing to the visually impaired. But the reader does other stuff, too. Books can read themselves aloud to you with Blio highlighting each word so you can follow along. It supports 3D graphics, so pop-ups look like pop-ups. You can look up definitions of words online, and highlight text, make notes in the margins, add pictures and web links to your notes, sync between up to five laptops with Blio installed. K-NFB is working with publishers to encode more books into the XPS e-book format and a laptop makes an obvious reader for bigger, audio/visually enhanced e-books.

Toshiba will bundled the e-reader with all its laptops, as well as let others download a free Windows version from its Book Place website. The library boasts over 1 million public domain titles and will initially offer 6,000 e-books for purchase. Until October 12, those who download the free e-reader will also be offered four free books, if they so choose: Two kids books, I Know an Old Teacher by Anne Bowen and Stephen Gammell and Monster Boy’s Soccer Game, by Carl Emerson and Lon Levin Carl Emerson and Lon Levin; a non-fiction title: History’s Greatest Lies: The Startling Truths Behind World Events our History Books Got Wrong by William Weir; and a cookbook Knack Grilling Basics by Linda Johnson Larsen.

Despite the e-reader's promise and the backing of both Toshiba and Kurzweil, XPS faces an uphill battle against Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony/Google and others. These rivals already have significantly larger bookstores. Plus, it's competing against a baker's dozen other e-reader formats in the market. Do readers or publishers need another? On the other hand, you can't beat the price.