July 25th, 2010
02:42 PM GMT
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Hardcovers and paperbacks need to make much more room for their digital cousins. The annual Hong Kong Book Fair is in town this week and for the first time, there's a section on digital publishing.

Considering the book fair attracts about 900,000 book lovers, the digital section is getting heavy foot traffic and lots of eyeballs. About two dozen companies showcased their digital offerings. Two especially caught our eye.

The first, Kiwa Media of New Zealand, sells Q Books, interactive children's books that can be downloaded onto the iPad (which was launched this week in Hong Kong), iPhone and iPod Touch.

Derek Judge, creative director for Kiwa, demonstrated how a child can "read" a book on an iPad. He opened up a digital children's book titled "Milly, Molly and the Bike Ride." There's a drop down language menu which gives you the options of English, Chinese, Spanish or Italian. He selected Chinese for text and narration. All of the text turned into Chinese characters.

When he put a finger on one character, a computerized voice pronounced that word in Chinese. There's also a color palette from which a child can choose colors to fingerpaint the story's images on the touchscreen.

"I had a girl yesterday that grabbed my iPAD off me, sat down on the chair and was playing with it for an hour," he said. "She was coloring in. She did some fantastic coloring ins. This was a four-year old. She was tapping words in Italian and spelling them out. So that's exactly what it is: it's entertainment and a children's book but it's engaging."

Kiwa Media offers 15 children's books for the iPad and 18 for the iPod and iPhone. Kiwa Media is the conduit for different publishers to offer their childrens book as a digital application. According to Judge, the publishers set the price but the average download costs about US$4.

The second company, Hanvon, is a Chinese firm that has come out with the Chinese equivalent of Amazon's Kindle. Company representative Bo Bo Wong powered up Hanvon's newest model, the N618, adding: "This is the first time we have a wifi model in Hong Kong."

The N619 has 5,000 books pre-installed in the e-book reader. The books can be read in traditional and simplified Chinese characters as well as English. Wong says you can also download most other books and newspapers that are available online. The N618 has been on the market in China for a few months and sells for US$430.

Last week, Amazon announced it sold more e-books than hardcover books in the past three months. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com calls this "astonishing" especially since the online retailer has been selling hardcover books for 15 years while Kindle books have been available for just under 3 years.

As we saw at the Hong Kong book fair, this trend towards digital publishing is also turning the page on the traditional book fair.



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