The digital era will worm its way into the world of books in Britain later this week. Sony and leading British bookseller Waterstone's are launching the Sony Reader on Thursday, believing the 199 pound ($400) gizmo will promise to make people keep reading longer.
The e-book is four millimetres thick, weighs nine ounces - the size of an average paperback - and comes with a 200 MB memory. It mimics the page-turning of an ordinary novel, though you need to press a button to flick to the next page, which some might find cumbersome in the era of touch-screen technology.
And unlike a computer, there is no glare on the screen, which will not be easy on the eye initially. When you switch it on, it brings up the last page you read and text can be magnified.
Each Sony Reader will be sold with a CD containing 100 books and plays, including "Dracula", "Romeo and Juliet", "Pride and Prejudice" and "Great Expectations".
Waterstone's has tens of thousands of titles waiting to be downloaded on to the e-book from its website. Buying one will cost about the same as a traditional book.
The device, however, is not the first e-book to hit the market. Amazon has been selling its Kindle in the US for about 200 pounds and Borders sells its own version, the Iliad, for 399 pounds.
Authors and publishers are divided on the future of the e-book, making one think that like the once unwieldy mobile phone, e-book technology has a way to go before everybody buys one.
John Makinson of Penguin said: "There is a broad audience out there for electronic books. To what extent they will be a major alternative to traditional books, we don't know." By 2010, he predicts e-books will account for one percent of sales, according to the Daily Mail.
But author Nick Hornby, whose novels include "Fever Pitch", is sceptical. "There is currently much consternation in the industry about the future of the conventional book, but my suspicion is that it will prove to be more tenacious than the CD. Readers of books like books," he said.