Microsoft and RR Donnelley have announced a joint effort to provide large numbers of eBook titles to users of Microsoft Reader software.(see "Microsoft, 'bringing words to life").

"Paper now has a companion," said Mark Bayer, a senior vice president at R.R. Donnelley, during a press conference in New York.

"In the digital world of the future - or really of the present because we're already converting content for eBook players - we can take information that we have converted, and put it into a content repository of tens of thousands of titles that we will build," Bayer said. "And we'll make sure it can be sent reliably and securely to a customer, who may have any of a number of different devices."

RR Donnelley, a content manager and printer of books and other reading material, has committed to converting print-based titles to the Open eBook (OEB) specification, which would allow them to store and manage the resulting electronic titles. The company will license necessary technologies, including digital rights management tools, from Microsoft.

"As a title is sold and moves to the customer, there will be an associated click charge, and Microsoft will share in it," Bayer said.

However, Dick Brass, vice president of technology development at Microsoft, pointed out during today's press conference that the availability of electronic reading tools alone is not enough to change the way people read.

"Without tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of important and compelling titles to read, the rest of it is just technology," Brass said during the press conference. "Without Donnelley, we would not have the books necessary to realize this market and make it grow. Right now, there are only a few thousand eBook titles available, and that's not enough to get people to move from paper to electronic reading. We don't yet have an industry."

The eBook revolution for which Microsoft and Donnelley are hoping to set the stage will benefit publishers as well as customers, according to Donnelley's Bayer.

"The value for our publishing customers will be that they can come to one partner that can help them get into the digital space as well as continuing in the printed space," he said. "They'll see increased revenue streams, and we'll make this hassle-free and easily available to them. Then there are the consumer benefits: they can carry a lot of information in a very small space, and have all the advantages of electronic distribution."

Brass stressed the importance of offering enough titles to support the new technology, and Microsoft's commitment to aiding development of both.

"I think we'll see, in a few short years or even a few months, many more eBook titles than anyone has previously imagined would be available," he said.