Hong Kong publishers need to duplicate their works in electronic format for distribution over the Internet if they want to prepare for the future, according to a local electronic book publisher. Lawrence Pang, CEO of Digital Heritage Publishing, said electronic books, or e-books, posed a threat to the traditional publishing industry, largely because they could be distributed worldwide cheaply, compared with their papercousins. E-books are basically an electronic form of storing text, audio and video files that can be downloaded on to personal computers, palm computers and specialised e-book reading devices. Readers can scroll text, view photographs, listen to audio files, even flip virtual pages, by pointing and clicking. 'If we are talking about the reader's time as a limited resource, then printed books would be affected because they would be competing for the same amount of readership time.' Mr Pang predicted that in the short run e-books would complement traditional books. Recent experience in the United States suggests that e-books tend to promote the sale of paper versions, as readers still prefer to thumb through the pages. 'Readers who like an e-book they bought from the Internet may want to read it in a more enjoyable format, and buy the printed version,' Mr Pang said. In the long run, the cheaper cost of producing and distributing over the Net will knock aside the cumbersome traditional book distribution model. Mr Pang estimated that distributing e-books via the Internet could be done for about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the cost of selling hard covers. 'Compared with printed books, e-books are more cost-effective to develop,' Mr Pang said, describing his company as an IT publisher specialising in Chinese culture. 'E-book publishing will greatly reduce publishing lead time, and increase our flexibility in publishing a variety of new books. Readers will ultimately benefit from a better price and greater convenience.' Last week, Digital Heritage Publishing, in co-operation with the Chinese Books Cyberstore, launched its first generation e- book, The Luk's Pedagogy of Stock Investment by Chan Wing-luk. As the first e-book off the vir tual printing press, the title will offer largely a text-based format, with few multi-media bells and whistles. Mr Pang said the Chinese language title was just one of more than 40 educational and fiction e-books scheduled to be released before September. He added that e-book publishing was naturally suited to Chinese publishing, as it enabled multiple releases of titles formatted in traditional and simplified Chinese, with both horizontal and vertical typographical layouts. Formed in 1997, Digital Heritage Publishing contains the world's largest digital archive of Chinese books, according to the company. Almost all Chinese classics are available in e-book format, under a series titled Sikuquanshu (Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature). This is a collection of classical texts with some 800 million characters, and is an unparalleled source of information about Chinese culture and history spanning 5,000 years.