THE digital era is often seen as a threat to the existence of the traditional bookshop. But the launch yesterday of Readings's ebook store, using new technology developed in Melbourne, could lead the way for independent bookshops to thrive in a brave new world.
The technology, developed by Melbourne company Inventive Labs, allows readers to buy their digital editions and read them on any device that has a web browser. The Readings store is initially offering titles from smaller publishers but negotiations to stock editions from larger ones and multinationals are under way.
Large bookchains such as Angus & Robertson and Dymocks already sell ebooks for specific reading devices. Readings managing director Mark Rubbo says his new store is a way of giving independent booksellers and publishers a presence in the new environment. ''Eventually it will be available to other booksellers to recreate in a digital space the bricks and mortar bookshop. Instead of being locked into (ebook brands) Amazon or Kobo, readers will have some choice.''

Mr Rubbo says prices are substantially lower than the print editions. There are now 150 titles on the site but he expects to have thousands of titles available by March.
Inventive Labs co-founder Joseph Pearson says there are two elements to the system,, which is a distribution platform for the ebooks and where your digital titles are stored, and Monocle, which is the system that allows you to read them. This latter is ''open source'', which means that anyone with a web browser can use it. In the US, the Starbucks chain of coffee shops is using Monocle for its in-store digital reading network. Mr Pearson only discovered this on a recent visit to San Francisco.
''We want to promote it as a way for anyone to read their books. You don't need to purchase a special device,'' Mr Pearson said. ''We are trying to lower the barriers of entry for ebooks. There is a perception that the infrastructure has to be huge but we are promoting a different idea.''

Australian Booksellers Association president Jon Page, who runs the Sydney bookshop Pages & Pages, calls the development significant.
He says selling ebooks has been a question of volume and market, which independent bookshops find difficult without grouping together.
''This is something we can build on. It shows publishers and others that independents shouldn't be ignored,'' he says.