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Computer Books Turn Reading Into Audiovisual Event

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IN the multimedia section of the Learningsmith store here people are looking at a book without pages.

Part of bestselling author Michael Crichton's novel "Jurassic Park" is displayed on a computer screen as customers make text slide up and down, bookmarks appear and disappear, or built-in illustrations and sound come to life all at the click of a mouse.

This is the latest advance in electronic publishing: books on computer disks. The lure is in the illustrations and sound effects that turn reading into a multisensory experience.

For instance, California-based Donovan Publishing has among its disk offerings a series of safari books, which take readers through the sights and sounds of foreign climes with the help of audio tapes.

Electronic publisher SoftBooks in California has come out with "The Presidents," which allows someone to read via personal computer about each president, see his photo, and in some cases hear one of his speeches.

More often, though, special hardware is also required to read books on compact disk or floppy disks.

Michigan-based Brilliance Electronic Publishing markets compact disks for Sony's new multimedia Discman. This portable player allows one to either read the book on screen, listen to it, or do both at once.Compact disks, known as CD-ROM (compact disk, read-only memory), can store up to 100,000 pages of text. This allows an encyclopedia like Compton's - all 20-plus volumes - to fit along with illustrations and sound examples on one disk.

PUBLISHERS say electronic books are an important part of the industry's future, though few suggest printed books will disappear altogether.

The new products are "good for people who are looking to do new things with books," says Carol Schneider, a vice president and associate publisher at Random House.

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