Brave E World?: The Right Track
James Lichtenberg -- 12/20/99
With so many new e-publishing opportunities, companies are lining up to provide back-end management systems

In the last year, a number of unfamiliar names have begun to present themselves as publishers' new partners. Given the myriad digital opportunities that abound, exploiting and protecting intellectual property requires robust software that can track rights and royalties, and follow production to the Web and print. Software producers such as REAL Software Systems, Reciprocal, the U.K.-based Vista, Tower Business Systems, Enigma and ION Systems appear alongside familiar names -- printers R.R. Donnelley and Banta -- in what may be unfamiliar roles: digital asset database managers. From the computer and office systems world, Adobe, Microsoft and Xerox are all aiming to provide pieces of the e-publishing puzzle.

Each offers software for the various e-production steps: content digitization; file conversion; metadata tagging; product identification (i.e., ISBN, DOI); protection of content; rights and royalties management; consumer usage data collection and analysis; digital project management and enterprise-wide systems.

These products, moreover, are increasingly being presented in forms that provide links with other computer systems in the publisher's office -- for finances, distribution and human resources management.

REAL, a division of venture capital company El Camino, is headquartered in Woodland Hills, Calif. Tower Business Systems, in Patchogue, N.Y., grew out of a book distribution company. Both Tower's Sovereign and REAL's Alliant software track contracts, permissions, sub rights, royalties and production information, and link it to accounts payable and accounts receivable.

REAL's Alliant was designed for keeping track of rights in the movie industry, where contracts are much more complex than in book publishing, Alliant is very powerful and can cost in the upper-five-figure range, but might be a good match for giant houses like HarperCollins or Random House.The Sovereign rights and royalties program is essentially custom tailored for each installation, but can cost only a quarter as much as Alliant, because Tower has very little overhead.

DRM: The Heart of Publishing
In the arch that represents e-publishing, the keystone is digital rights management. The core interest of all publishers is to protect intellectual property and make sure the house gets paid. DRM manages these processes. Absent this, even the most perfectly digitized and tagged content is commercially useless.

Last summer, Houghton Mifflin's college text division launched a pilot program with several software partners that could serve as an illustration of the number of companies and kinds of software needed in a typical online content agreement.

Houghton wanted to send textbooks and course packs to students' computers at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The publisher chose to use Adobe Systems Acrobat PDF (Portable Document File), a file format with wide acceptance. Next, the publisher used the InterTrust firm to provide "persistent" copyright protection for the files in the form of digital protective envelope. The code that locks the envelope, and identifies the user once he has paid, is made by Reciprocal, a Buffalo-based rights software company.

For this project, HM sent the course materials on a CD-ROM. If they had been sent live, online, Adobe's Web Buy software, part of the Acrobat suite, would allow easy browsing and selection of items on the student's computer. At the same time, Adobe PDF Merchant could verify the student's credit card number, check with his bank, withdraw the money and make sure the publisher gets paid.

In the SUNY project, Reciprocal cleared the rights for the texts and tracked usage. Students were allowed to choose among varying levels of use. Reciprocal's software can automatically respond to requests to upgrade access levels, download files, warn of unauthorized use or cancel access IDs.

Since Houghton began its project, established companies like Microsoft, Xerox and Adobe have entered the DRM arena. In November, Xerox and Reciprocal announced the e-Publishing Clearing Service (ePCS), which offers a one-stop digital rights management service for publishers, covering every aspect of document protection and Internet distribution from file conversion to customer invoicing.

Adobe is linking its PDF Merchant and Acrobat Reader with Web Buy software to Reciprocal's DRM clearinghouse services. A pre-release demo of the Acrobat Reader with Web Buy is available at www.adobe.com.

Among DRM competitors, Yankee Rights Group is relatively well known, having grown from the Yankee Book Peddler distribution company. Lesser-known firms include Digital Owl of Winter Park, Fla., and ION Systems out of Crystal City, Mo.

The DRM Upside
A number benefits accrue from proper DRM. First, using the InterTrust/Reciprocal system, for example, the original file remains safe within its digital envelope. The user can never actually touch the original, but gains approved viewing access, always indirectly, as though the text were protected behind a glass wall. Second, in most DRM systems, the business rules can be very specific, including designating parts of the document for "free" or limited-time access. Third, the program can gather detailed user data regarding what was used, when it was used and how it was used. Finally, forwarding, the ability to allow or restrict lending or giving a protected file to a colleague, is one of the most important aspects of DRM.

These accounting, content and data management technologies are not only creating new products and new options for traditional products, but uniting the back and front office of publishing houses in ways that will transform the industry.

Intro: Brave E World?