Berlin’s TXTR Aims to Fight the E-Powers That Be

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

090128-txtr-reader-front-and-back-with-white-backgroundBERLIN: “There are a lot of people in Germany who are afraid of what is happening at the moment with e-books in America,” says Fabian Heinrich, spokesperson for Wizpac, manufacturer of the forthcoming TXTR e-book reader.

“Whether it’s Amazon or Google making people do what they want them to do, we don’t think that’s a good thing. We have to find a shop system that works for everyone, not just the big companies. That is, essentially, what we’re trying to do.”

Rumors of the TXTR device have been circulating online since November of last year, when the Berlin-based company first disclosed plans to produce a Linux-based, DRM-free device. A prototype of the device made its debut at the Cebit 2009 electronics fair this past March, and the company recently announced plans for it to go on sale in Germany, Austria and Switzerland starting in conjunction with the Frankfurt Book Fair this October.

The quick production cycle of the device appears to come from a desire to establish a precedent for open-source products in Germany, where Sony and Amazon have yet to fully capitalize on the advanced positions in the e-book business they’ve already established in the US and elsewhere, thus preventing any company from establishing hegemony.

On the surface, little differentiates the TXTR reader from the others that are already available. It has the now commonplace standard issue six-inch, black-and-white e-ink display (like the Kindle and Sony), 3G wireless radio (like the Kindle), and an accelerometer, for automatic transitions from landscape to portrait mode. The TXTR will also include Wi-fi and Bluetooth – more commonly available on phones – which should ease the wireless syncing among devices.

“The main feature of the device for new consumers is that we offer an open solution for getting documents onto the device,” says Heinrich. “The TXTR platform allows you to create collections of documents online, host them on our site, access from your device, and share them.”

The operating software is expected to read ePub, PDF, RSS and HTML, Microsoft PowerPoint and Word files; opening the TXTR to a wide range of e-booksellers and content providers.

The company has already opened the site to users who want to upload files, and although although the TXTR device is not yet available, synchronization software is available online for PCs and Macs, as well as the iPhone. A clipping tools for Internet browsers allows users to clip web content to their TXTR account.

Earlier this month the company announced a variety of commercial German-language content partnerships including technical books specialist and e-bookseller, book wholesaler, and German book search database English-language e-books will be provided by Ingram Digital. Free content partners will include, and others. By its own calculation, TXTR says as many 200,000 commercial titles and one million free documents will be available to users at launch.

“The greatest potential partnerships for us are with the universities,” says Heinrich, who sees the open platform that TXTR promises as fertile ground for programmers and developers who want to produce their own software to use on the device.

To its credit, the company appears willing to give anyone a shot to make the most of their product. “We’re already working with members of the Chaos Computer Club to extend the range of device,” says Heinrich, referring to the well known club of Berlin-based libertarian computer hackers.

Heinrich says though, that in the end, success will come down to content and people, not devices.

“In five or ten years people will be using all kinds of devices to read e-books, so to us, the platform is far more important than the device,” says Heinrich, “Having a good community of users, and a good relationship with them, may be even more important.”

JOIN: The TXTR online community.

WATCH: A video demonstration of TXTR fromCebit 2009.

CONTACT: TXTR directly.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.