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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Publisher hears a new calling

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Over the past couple of years, the cell phone has emerged as a sound system, a video game player and a TV screen. Now, it could become the latest outlet for books.

Random House, the country’s leading trade book publisher, announced Thursday that it had purchased a “significant minority stake” in VOCEL, a San Diego-based company that describes itself as a provider of “premium-branded applications for mobile phones.”

“You have a whole generation of consumers, perhaps more than a generation, who are never more than 10 feet from their cell phones, including when they shower,” said Richard Sarnoff, president of Random House Ventures, an investment subsidiary of Random House, Inc. “Increasingly, cell phones are becoming an appliance for entertainment and education.”

Cell phone texts have already caught on in Germany, South Korea and Japan, where a cell-novel became so popular that it was turned into a feature film, “Deep Love.” But don’t expect the next Tom Clancy thriller to pop up on your phone. In the United States, Sarnoff said that phones, like e-books, are currently better suited for information than for narrative.

“The screens are inappropriate for that kind of sustained reading,” he said. “That’s a `maybe, someday’ discussion. We’ll keep an eye on that area, and if something happens … we’ll certainly respond.”

Random House already has dabbled in the phone market. VOCEL is currently working on a line of SAT study guides with The Princeton Review, an educational services company in which Random House has a minority ownership. Sarnoff spoke of using phones to transmit dictionary definitions or for language training.

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