By Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff
UK publishers are ignoring a growing market for electronic books, or e-books, a leading e-bookstore says.
A range of e-books are available in the US
E-books are files which can be downloaded and read on a PC or a portable device such as a Palm or Ipaq.
"Publishers in the UK have been much slower off the mark than publishers in the US," said Stephen Cole, founder of ebooks.com website.
Sales of e-books remain relatively small world-wide but Mr Cole said the "tipping point was imminent".
Mr Cole said publishers in the US were committed to e-books but he had not seen the same level of backing from UK firms.
"US publishers are now seeing quite gratifying returns," he said.
He described ebooks.com, which is based in the US and Australia, as an "online book shop with global reach" and said a successful e-book would sell almost 1,000 copies.
"That's a successful number for a single book shop," he said.
Mark McCallum, a marketing director at Random House in the UK, told BBC News Online: "The UK consumer market for e-books is very small.
"At the moment the technology does not make reading that pleasurable."
The Random House website lists 26 e-books, the most recent of which was published two years ago.
Richard Charkin, chief executive of MacMillan
publishers, said: "The traditional book is weathering the storm of technological changes really well."
He said the company was focusing its attention of electronic publication of texts for "scholars, scientists and students. not the general public".
One leading UK publisher told BBC News Online that the predicted revolution in e-books was unlikely to happen.
"Novels on hand-held terminals are not important.
"The novel does not suit electronic dissemination. Most people buy books to read for comfort. A lot of books bought are not actually ever read - they sit on shelves or on coffee tables.
"Books are very cheap. Why would we replace that with something that is not that cheap or could go wrong."
But Mr Cole said e-books offered a flexibility that novels did not.
"Several e-books can be held on a device at any one time, making them ideal for travel," he said.
Mr Cole admitted that e-books had been more of an "evolution than a revolution".
"We have seen rapid growth over the last two years - but that growth is from a very small base."
Mr Cole said the next generation of convergence devices - mobile phones combined with hand-held PCs - would speed the development of e-books.
Mr McCallum said one of the reasons e-books had failed to take off was due to the strength of the traditional book.
"Pick up a paperback - it's a very effective medium for reading a book.
"The book has been around for 600 years - that's a testament to its strength."