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Something else thats up in the air is all the speculation about Apples tablet device. Apple is expected to unveil it today. There has been endless talk about what this new gadget can do. For publishers, the question is how the device will affect the e-book market.

NPRs Lynn Neary reports.

LYNN NEARY: It may not be the Second Coming, but as one wag already said, this is the most excitement a tablet has generated since Moses handed down the Ten Commandments.

Mr. YAIR REINAR (Analyst, Oppenheimer & Company): The Apple tablet seems to be making waves and changing business practices before it even gets announced.

NEARY: Yair Reiner is an analyst for the Oppenheimer Company, an investment firm that buys and sells Apple stock. A few weeks ago, Reiner told investors that Apple was in discussions with major publishing companies because of the tablet's potential as an e-book reader. And he said Apple was offering the publishers a better deal than theyd been getting from Amazon, which dominates the e-book market with its Kindle.

This news came as other rumors were running rampant about the Apple tablet. Imagine an iPhone with all its apps - well, that says Craig Teicher, editor of the blog eBookNewser, is what a tablet might look like, only bigger.

Mr. CRAIG TEICHER (Editor, eBookNewser): The hope is that Apple will do with e-books what it did with iTunes, which is make this very kind of sexy and seamless and easy to use.

NEARY: Now, all this talk of a whiz-bang new device that can be used as a souped up e-reader and pits Apple against Amazon seems to be making Amazon a little skittish. Its been coming out with its own news, saying it too would offer better terms for publishers on e-books and authorizing the development of new apps for the Kindle, which is currently a single-purpose device.

Mr. MICHAEL HYATT (CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers): I love it.

NEARY: Michael Hyatt is CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Mr. HYATT: When Apple came out with the iPod and with iTunes, there was really nobody that could match the technology and really compete. And what we have today is the clash of the titans.

NEARY: Until now, Hyatt says, Amazons grip on the e-book market has been so complete that publishers had to accept their terms on everything, including the price of e-books.

Mr. HYATT: And what thats done for us is its created an expectation on the part of the consumer that an e-book is only worth $9.99. And I think probably if all were doing is delivering straight content as it appears in a physical book, that may be all its worth. So it's going to call upon us as publishers to deliver more, but we want to be able to set the pricing.

NEARY: And thats what the Apple tablet potentially offers publishers, says Yair Reiner - the opportunity to give readers a richer e-book experience.

Mr. REINER: Author interviews, unlimited amount of additional material like photographs and videos. I think thats pretty exciting for publishers, not just in terms of being able to perhaps charge more but also in terms of being able to perhaps make more interesting content that brings aboard new and different kinds of audiences.

NEARY: In one example of how a tablet device might work as an e-book, a textbook company has created a video that shows how a student could not only highlight passages and take notes, but also listen to a lecture. Michael Hyatt, whose company, Thomas Nelson, is a leading Christian book publisher, says the tablet might even enhance one perennial bestseller, the Bible.

Mr. HYATT: The Bible is full of opportunities to explain, to go further, to get behind the story, to provide the archaeological background, the historical background. So I think of all the products that we produce, the Bible lends itself to this format more readily.

NEARY: One other thing to keep in mind, says Craig Teicher, is that unlike dedicated e-book readers like the Kindle, you can do a lot of different things with the tablet, and buy a lot of products other than books.

Mr. TEICHER: Maybe you have sort of an iTunes portal that you buy your music and your e-books and your podcasts and your movies all at the same time and just dump them on this device and then get on the train, you know.

NEARY: Yes, so Apple can provide a store the way Amazon can provide a store.

Mr. TEICHER: I think that theyll have to. Otherwise everyones dreams will be crushed.

NEARY: So if the tablet does turn out to be everything that publishers and techies are dreaming of, it could that in the not-too-distant future e-book readers like the Kindle will be as threatened as, well, as the paper book.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: If youre one of the people whose dreams could come true, or be crushed, you can follow Apples announcement later today at npr.org. Live coverage of the event on our blog All Tech Considered begins at 1:00 Eastern time.

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