SoftBook Press, producer of the SoftBook eBook, has announced new book and periodical options to provide reading matter for its machine.

The first add-on is a preloaded collection of 100 classic fiction titles, including The Time Machine, Little Women, Sense and Sensibility, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Jim Sachs, SoftBook CEO, told PW, "These are not stripped-down, plain-text files, full of spelling errors; our editions are edited, formatted books with page numbers and hyperlinked tables of contents."

SoftBook -- already the first e-book reader to offer the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times delivered automatically to a subscriber's machine -- recently signed deals to add several periodicals to its collection, including Time, Fortune and Money from Time Inc.; IDG's InfoWorld; PC World; the Industry Standard; and PC Magazine, Interactive Week, PC Week and PC Computing from Ziff-Davis.

The SoftBook versions of the magazines include full-color covers, tables of contents and full text of all articles, but no inside photos or graphics.

Under the original subscription-based purchase plan, buyers paid $299 for the basic reader, plus a minimum $19.95 per month in purchases, either books or periodicals, for 24 months; a magazine subscription that cost $60 would cover three of the 24 months. SoftBook has now added a plan in which the buyer pays $599.95 for the reader loaded with the 100 classics, and has no further commitment to the company. In both cases, new titles can be purchased from the SoftBook Online bookstore.

Software, Not Hardware

Sachs acknowledged in a recent visit to PW that the e-book business is about software, not hardware. "The point is to get books, lots of books, into electronic format. We don't want to be like the VHS/Beta issue. No electronic book is going to catch on until there are enough titles people want to read available."

To this end, SoftBook will concentrate on what Sachs calls "content coupling," targeting special book and periodical bundles to niche markets. Medical, business and computer/tech are niches that offer possibilities, he said. "Once the e-book is established as a standard way to read for these specialized markets, we'll expand more toward the general trade."

Booksellers, originally worried about getting caught in a format war or being left out of e-book business altogether, could now become download centers (via long-rumored kiosks) for all formats of electronic books.