Baker & Taylor announced a partnership with acclaimed scientist, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, CEO of Kurzweil Technologies, to supply digital content for K-NFB Reading Technology, a newly developed e-book reading software created by Kurzweil in collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind. The software will be offered to consumers for free. B&T unveiled the software at the Frankfurt Book Fair with plans to launch the new reader in the U.S. at the end of November.

Although Kurzweil is a pioneer in creating technologies to assist the blind with reading, his new and as yet unnamed software product is aimed at both the general e-book reading market as well as the blind. In a phone interview with Kurzweil from his company’s headquarters in Massachusetts, he said not only can consumers use the software to read e-books, but the technology will allow the device its installed on to read the text aloud, in synch with a display of the text that highlights each word as it is spoken. On top of all that, he intends to offer the software for free via both downloads and CDs and told PW he expects to make money through the sale of books using the K-NFB e-reader. The software also offers high quality graphics and fonts and will even read plays aloud using different voices for different roles.

The Text to Speech function has been controversial and Kurzweil acknowledged that, “there are a small number of publishers who feel that TTS will compete with their audio books. For blind and dyslexic users they have a right to use TTS to gain equal access to print information. We believe this issue will be resolved soon in favor of universal TTS.”

“Our partnership with K-NFB Reading Technology is an exciting development in our strategy to work with best-in-breed digital media innovators to deliver the content that our customers and their end-users want,” said Tom Morgan, chairman and CEO of Baker & Taylor. “K-NFB’s new e-reader will certainly make waves in the industry.”

Kurzweil said consumers can buy e-books directly through the application and he said that there will be “a full featured online store including metadata, advanced search features, inference engine and more.” He also said the coventure will work with major retailers and allow the software to be branded with their coporate identity. Kurzweil said the venture will offer access to a “million” public domain titles and a “million” for-pay books. “A number of first tier publishers signed up today on the first day of the Frankfurt Book Fair,” he said. “We take in books from different publishers in a variety of formats and convert it to our own format,” said Kurzweil.

Kurzweil explained that the K-NFB e-reader software will run on laptops and desktop computers (PCs and Macs) as well as netbooks and mobile phones—Windows mobile and the iPhone right away with other mobile phone operating sytems added as quickly as possible. The software can read any format from straight text to PDF and ePub.

He also described the new e-reader as, “the ultimate expression of my work over the years. It will have wide distribution and will be available not only to the general reader and to the blind, but to the millions of people who suffer from Dyslexia.”

Click here for more coverage of the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair from PW and BookBrunch.