Multimedia brings book pages alive

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The Independent Online
LIKE many people starting out on their own, John Taylor and colleagues believed they could do a better job in their chosen field than their employers. Andromeda, the company Mr Taylor, Mark Ritchie and Michael Desebrock set up, is a publisher of high-quality reference books that was born in the mid-1980s.

Andromeda is not a household name, because it does not market itself. Rather, it sells encyclopaedias on subjects ranging from medicine to ancient history to companies such as Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Their productions are informative and well written as the Oxfordshire-based company employs renowned professors to write the texts. They are then edited extensively so they can be understood by the intelligent lay person.

The company was boosted a few years ago when the managers realised that - having produced about 10 adult books - they could gain a competitive advantage over their rivals by publishing children's versions from the same material.

What is likely to be far more significant, though, is the move into multimedia. About 18 months ago, they were asked if they could produce an electronic form of their encyclopaedias to sell in Texas and California. Ever-confident, they said they could - and started rushing around to find the means. When they failed to find the appropriate software at the right price, they developed their own and came up with their first multimedia product, a space encyclopaedia that includes such features as animated demonstrations of gravity.

The company is optimistic that it can obtain most of its revenue from this source in the future. In the current year, Andromeda expects to make a profit of about pounds 250,000 on turnover of about pounds 6.25m, of which the interactive side will account for between a pounds 250,000 and pounds 500,000. It expects the multimedia section to double its share of the business each year for the next five.

Mr Taylor sees strength in Andromeda's software not being dependent on whichever hardware system eventually becomes the industry standard. As long as CD- Rom, which is rapidly becoming standard on PCs, continues its growth, Andromeda feels it is on to a winner.

The big attraction of CD-Rom to a reference book company such as Andromeda is its almost infinite storage capacity. A single disk can contain almost every known piece of research on space or 1,200 classic books for less than pounds 100 - a great bargain for cash-strapped education authorities.

With every UK secondary school expected to have at least one CD- Rom machine by the end of this year, Andromeda sees huge potential in Britain alone. For example, by having the works of William Shakespeare on disk, a teacher could bring Romeo and Juliet to life by calling up not just the text and scholarly references to it, but an animated depiction of life in Verona at the time.

Not that Mr Taylor, the company's chief executive, is predicting the end of the book as we know it: 'All that CD-Rom is going to do is to increase the availability of high-quality reference in the home. It's not going to stop people having libraries of books that smell great.'

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