The Seybold Seminars Boston 2001 conference, held last month, presented a different mix from Seybolds past. The Key3Media-sponsored expo offered attendees the expected, the unexpected and the downright bizarre. There was, as always, a lot of technology on display, for print, electronic media and cross-media publishing. But an unusual flavor in this year's brew was the large proportion of business-related discussion in the seminars. And it was plain weird to find that the largest booth on the show floor was Mercedes Benz.

"There are three eras of development in any new technology," noted Jeff Ramos, managing director, worldwide marketing, emerging technologies at Microsoft, in his presentation on "The Future of E-books." "First, they go from science fiction to reality, as people make real what was only dreamed before. Then they move from reality to business, as people find ways to make money from the new technology. And finally, they develop from a business into an industry."

With e-books a concrete if slow-developing reality, both the show floor displays and seminar talks turned to ways to establish the infrastructure and support networks to drive a publishing industry.

As might be expected, Adobe had a lot of new technology to show. What was not expected was that Apple Computer, still the system of choice for publishing, didn't have a booth, even though it has just introduced OS X (pronounced ten), its network-based operating system.

At the Hynes Center, Adobe introduced Acrobat 5 and PDF 1.4, the latest iteration of its cross-platform display program. Though much of Acrobat 5's improvement has been called a "face-lift," with incremental advances in such current features as file sharing, e-signatures and color management, one of the most-needed changes was demonstrated in Boston—XML structure and tagging.

PDF files were previously virtual pictures of a page, retaining the design a publisher intended in a book. The drawback for e-publishing was that the file could not adapt to the different screen sizes and shapes of proliferating portable reading devices especially small handhelds. To fit small screens and take advantage of computer functions available on the Net, such as database searches and interactivity, publishers had to abandon PDF for XML-based formats, such as the Open eBook (OEB).

From Acrobat 5 forward, PDF documents will be XML and metadata taggable, with structure elements such as headlines, author names, chapter headings, body text and sidebars defined right in the file. Type can reflow to fit the screen available, while keeping such design elements as type font and size. One interesting feature is that PDF retains page orientation: if page 235 in the original has a lot of text, it doesn't matter how many midget screens are needed to display the text, it all remains associated with page 235. This solves a problem for publishers of texts used as references: citations become stable, something not currently possible with designless XML files, which increase the number of pages in a document based on the number of screens needed to display it.

The reflowable PDF was demonstrated in Adobe's new Acrobat Reader for Palm OS 3.1—the first handheld device to use any Acrobat format. With 13 million Palm OS users, this is a huge advance for Adobe and for e-book publishers. The Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader, adapted from the Glassbook format when Adobe acquired the latter company last fall, is also shipping, available at and Mike Looney, Adobe's senior director of e-books, says that reflow for the Acrobat eBook Reader will probably have to wait for the next release of the e-book software, possibly by fall.

To Serve and Protect

PDF 1.4 will also ship with DRM technology from Intertrust built in, to help automate copyright protection. Adobe also announced the availability of Content Server 2 (also adapted from Glassbook) with PDF Merchant, to store e-books for publishers and automate retail transactions.

The need for a variety of specialized server systems to automate the whole publishing world became a driving force in Boston. There were literally dozens of server systems shown, for asset management, rights handling, commercial transactions, digital delivery and back office systems.

OverDrive Inc. announced its Content Reserve, a wholesale digital book service for secure distribution of e-books and print-on-demand files. Publishers can upload titles to a reserve account, set pricing, select DRM terms and upload marketing information all within minutes. According to OverDrive CEO Steve Potash, Content Reserve was developed so that "a single copy of each e-book can be used for secure retail sales all over the world."

Microsoft, too, announced plans to incorporate expanded versions of its Digital Asset Server (DAS) 2.0 and DRM technology across its entire product range by this fall. DAS Wholesale, a B2B system, will help publishers create networks of suppliers and retailers; the B2C DAS Resell will automate the commerce-clearing and DRM part of the value chain; DAS 2 will also include a DRM package to allow pass-along readers, including peer-to-peer exchanges, to purchase rights to titles directly from the reseller. "We believe that having the DRM integrated directly into the client is the only way to achieve rights management with integrity that would be sustainable over the years," Jeff Ramos said.

During the "Overview from the Front Lines" seminar session, Steven Hammersly, v-p, director of strategic alliances for Pearson Education, showed a subtle shift in attitude for publishers away from highly restrictive DRM models. Describing the need to encourage the e-book market, he pointed to the higher education market. The established computer use of college students and their acceptance of course packs make them ideal targets to begin e-book marketing programs. But for the present, he warned, publishers needed to avoid draconian DRM setups. "Utility is more important than DRM, at least until we understand the customer's desires better."

A Far (Smaller) Pavilion

PW once again sponsored the e-book pavilion on the expo floor, although with the economic slowdown in tech companies, the pavilion was combined with the DRM display. The companies displaying there were active in showing the changes sweeping through the industry.

Mike Segroves of Palm Digital Media (formerly exhibited the new model M500, which comes with the Palm Digital Reader loaded on the machine. So was DRM newcomer Sealed Media, showing how authors can self-publish using the Web.

One sobering note from the pavilion may show just how dangerous is the reliance on venture capital. Digital Goods, formerly Softlock, had a very large booth; it described an elaborate plan to help publishers and retailers with servers and digital storefronts, and announced plans to partner with ContentGuard. Because more VC funding was soon expected, the plan looked plausible. Two weeks later, DG seems to be on its last legs (see p. 9).