Staff -- 9/18/00
Seybold Looks At E-Book Market
E-books hot topic of meeting, though survey
finds few prepared to pay for titles
E-books were the hit of the show at Seybold San Francisco 2000, the leading forum for discussion of how to use digital technology to improve publishing. Because of its proximity to Silicon Valley, Seybold SF, held at the beginning of September, is traditionally an Internet-oriented show, while the spring show in Boston is more print-centric.
But this year the publishing technology that has seen the most new development is e-books, widely regarded as a window on publishing's future because of the number of challenges involved: changing page size and shape; copyright protection; variable licensing and payment models; and new delivery methods, including simultaneous multiple-format output, to name just a few.
To highlight the important developments in e-books this season, Publishers Weekly sponsored a pavilion on the exhibit floor, the E-Book Showcase, where attendees could compare the contenders in e-book hardware and software head-to-head. In the showcase, attendees sized up e-book file formats, including Adobe's Acrobat Reader in PDF, Glassbook Reader, Microsoft Reader and the Palm OS titles produced by netLibrary's Peanut Press subsidiary. The newest of these, of course, is Microsoft Reader for desktop and laptop computers, released last month and downloaded for free by 100,000 people the first day it was available.
In order to help define the market, at the end of July Seybold Seminars engaged Advantage Business Research to survey attendees of the previous year's Seybold shows in San Francisco and Boston, about e-books. The results contain some surprises, and make some cogent points about what it will take for e-books to take off.
Of 33,000 questionnaires sent out, about 2,880, or nearly 10%, replied. Some 28% of respondents were in their 30s; 31% in their 40s; and 28% 50 or older. Of the 2,880, only 15% had read an e-book in any form before filling out the survey. Only 12% counted themselves as likely to purchase an e-book and read it on computer, PDA or dedicated e-reading device, and 66% said they were "not likely" to buy an e-book in the next 12 months, including 40% of those who had already read an e-book. The respondents were by no means all from the world of print: only 7% said they worked in printing or prepress service supply.
Clearly Seybold attendees, while technically apt, are not enamored of the current crop of dedicated reader devices, as more than 51% of all respondents thought that as PDAs and laptops improved, people would read electronic texts on those rather than dedicated e-book devices. The type of content to be read strongly influences the type of device for these respondents. More than 45% were interested in reading maps and travel guides on a PDA or Palm, but only 17% wanted trade magazines and 12% wanted recreational or fiction books. On dedicated e-book devices, fiction books ranked first, at 28%, though trade magazines and maps or travel guides trailed by only a fraction of a percentage point. Law books and medical texts drew single-digit acceptance in any format, which reflects more the occupations of the respondents than the devices.. Children's books drew consistently low figures, 9% on dedicated devices and 2% on PDAs. Only 31% of respondents currently own a PDA or Palm Pilot.
Seybold's v-p and general manager, Gene Gable, noted that the emphasis given to hardware at this show might only be a passing phase. "Our research indicated that more than 35% of attendees thought digital rights management was going to be 'very important' over the next 12 months, as opposed to 25% who thought e-book devices would be; 41% thought that wireless communications would be the 'next big thing.'"
Users Can Be Choosers
While there were few press announcements at this show (the two most important being Adobe's acquisition of Glassbook and Microsoft's e-book ice-breaker with Amazon; News, Sept. 4), some promising developments came out of the E-Book Showcase.
Digital Owl, based in Winter Park, Fla., has allied with Kinko's to help consumers get copyright-protected materials printed on demand and delivered the same day or overnight. Digital Owl's patent-pending KineticEdge software lets customers purchase and download titles on PCs, PDAs or wireless phones, while maintaining publishers' copyrights.
At the DO booth, CEO Kirstie Chadwick demonstrated a user interface through which readers can call up a title, and then choose the output format they prefer. The interface also offers "Print to Kinko's," which links to a kinkos.com database, arranging for the printing of the title at a nearby Kinko's shop. To be added soon is a PocketPC Reader format which, unlike the Microsoft Reader, allows printing.
Eberhard Joins AlexLit.com BoardAlexandria Digital Literature, a digital publisher and e-book retailer based in Seattle, announced that Martin Eberhard, inventor of the Rocket eBook and the former CEO of NuvoMedia, has joined its board. And in a special promotion, the company reached an agreement with the Hugo Awards, the annual prizes for science fiction, to make 11 of the Hugo Award nominees and several of the award winners available as downloadable e-books.
Dave Howell, the founder of AlexLit.com, said Eberhard was a friend, "and decided to join our board when he left NuvoMedia." Eberhard will be "helping us with investors, giving us e-publishing advice and looking at our business plan," Howell said.
Howell previously created the book division for Wizards of the Coast, a game and trading card publisher. Howell told PW that the central idea for AlexLit--a book-recommending service--began in the 1980s. Howell compared the software to Amazon.com's recommendation service. He launched AlexLit.com in 1996, offering its electronic publishing services for out-of-print books to authors and publishers. AlexLit.com offers writers a variety of terms for digital publication, with an escalating royalty scale based on exclusive or nonexclusive publication through AlexLit.com. The site offers more than 700 titles through AlexLit.com and Mindseye.com, a subsidiary e-publishing site.
The recommendation software allows readers to rate books; Howell said the site now has about 1.9 million title ratings. AlexLit is an affiliate of Amazon.com and Powells.com, and allows readers to click through to those sites if it d s not offer the titles recommended. The site also provides its proprietary technology for converting digital files into any e-book format. In addition, the site offers an AlexLit.com newsgroup, and sells e-books through its online bookstore.
Howell said "We have titles you can't get anywhere else and a format readers can use. We're a reader's e-publisher."
Esubstance to Turn Books into Web ContentOne way publishers are looking to boost subsidiary rights income is through eSubstance, a new company that specializes in repackaging books for use in a variety of high-profile Web sites.
ESubstance (www.esubstance.com) is a digital syndicator that will act as an intermediary between publishers and Web sites looking for branded content. The company, based in London, was cofounded by Adrian Singleton, former managing director of Boxtree and Channel 4 Books, and Jeffrey O'Rourke, a former director of iCollector, an antiques auction portal site.
Singleton explained that eSubstance will provide a secure way to generate subsidiary revenues. Singleton emphasized that eSubstance also addresses publishers' concerns with online distribution--"how to develop an online business without losing control of content; how to manage complex rights situations; how to control where and to whom content is supplied, with an approval mechanism before the content is distributed."
The idea is to identify titles from a wide range of genres, such as cooking, gardening, travel, art, antiques, wine and children's books, whose contents will appeal to leading blue-chip companies looking for material to enrich their Web sites. However, Singleton was quick to emphasize that eSubstance is meant to complement publishers' other e-publishing opportunities: "We're not suctioning up publishers' entire lists, and we are not impinging on publishers' own portals."
ESubstance also plans to expand the service into providing content into other new-media formats, such as WAP, interactive TV and handheld computing devices. The company also expects to offer sound and video formats once the bandwidth obstacles have been eliminated.
Mark Bishop, formerly in charge of new media at HarperCollins and now part of eSubstance's 12-person management team, told PW that they will be selecting books from a wide range of U.K. and U.S. publishers' lists. Publishers will be paid an advance for digital syndication rights, and will be able to approve all deals. The work of clearing rights to the content and digitizing it will be done by eSubstance, which has developed a technological solution for converting book content into ready-to-use online databases. The technology will be provided by Vignette, a supplier of e-business applications based in Austin, Tex., which has an equity stake in eSubstance. The company has raised a total of £7.5 million in first-round financing, including £5 million from 3i, one of Europe's leading venture capitalists.
Volume 246 Issue 38 09/18/2000