[ PW Home ] [ Bestsellers ] [ Subscribe ] [ Search ]

Publishers Weekly

Proof of Concept
Paul Hilts -- 6/19/00
From devices to new book titles to business models,
booksellers see that e-commerce can work.

This is the year that the business of e-publishing began to take shape, and BEA 2000 reflected this shaping from beginning to end. Following on the success of Stephen King's Riding the Bullet in March, there has been a veritable frenzy of e-activity among the leading trade publishers.
With some 60 e-related exhibitors, more than 20 seminar sessions on digital topics and Jeff Bezos's keynote address, anyone who didn't find more technology than they could assimilate at this BEA just wasn't paying attention.

Building an Industry
Microsoft's eBook Builder 2000 seminar showed the amount of work that has gone into preparing its Microsoft Reader and PocketPC as a product within an integrated business, not just a another high-tech toy. Publishers attending learned about production workflow from such business partners as Ken Brooks of Barnes & Noble, which will sell e-books in Reader format through its online sister, BN.com, and Steve Potash of Overdrive Systems, code-writers for the Reader project. A special white paper on digital security and rights management was included in attendees' packets, as was a CD-ROM containing a discussion of the thinking behind Reader and the need for its ClearType text display, plus a beta-test sample of the desktop PC software due out later this summer.

Three announcements were made at eBook Builder that will significantly affect the development of the business in the next six to 12 months. First, 31 publishers, including Time Warner Trade Publishing, IDG Books, Perseus Books Group, Rodale and Cambridge University Press, were named as launch partners, providing more than 800 titles for the initial rollout of the desktop Reader product this summer. The titles will include a mix of fiction and nonfiction, self-help and travel books, including more than 20 of IDG's Frommer's guides. "We are committed to making all our titles available electronically," IDG chairman and CEO John Kilcullen told PW.

Tech highlights
  • A wave of new frontlist titles heads
    for e-book formats

  • New devices are more readable,
    with more and better on the way

  • Basic structure of the business will remain recognizable

  • New partnerships show print on
    demand as part of e-distribution

  • Copyright violation still irks

The second announcement that will affect e-book production was Quark's revelation that it will soon incorporate automated conversion to Reader format in its avenue.quark XML-creating extension for QuarkXPress. Publishers using XPress for layout will be able to push a single button and get the same file that drives print production ready for e-book distribution.

Finally, Microsoft announced an agreement with Labyrinten Data AB of Sweden and isSound of Ewing, N.J. to create text-to-audio synchronization of e-books in Reader format. Thus, the same file that is an e-book becomes an audio book, opening tremendous opportunities for publishers to create a single file that can become a frontlist hardcover, an e-book and an audio book. Blind and partly sighted people will no longer have to wait months for books from specialty audio and large-print producers. The American Foundation for the Blind published a white paper, "Surpassing Gutenberg," calling for just such use of e-books.
NetLibrary has redefined
its business, becoming
an e-distributor.
AAP E-Book Task Force
Thursday had its own technology announcements, most notably a press conference at which the AAP and Andersen Consulting announced that their joint Open E-Books Standards Project was moving into its second phase. Phase I, a study of the potential e-book market, was discussed in a report at AAP's March annual meeting.
To launch Phase II, the recommendation of standards in digital rights management, metadata (information describing the e-book) and numbering (unique IDs) for e-books, project chairman and Pearson Education CEO Peter Jovanovich joined AAP president Pat Schr der in describing the process. June 1 marked the start of 16 weeks of intensive study of the problems associated with, and technologies affecting, security of files, e-commerce database information such as ONIX and unique "license plates" such as DOI and ISBN. A report will follow in the fall, with recommendations of particular standards for the AAP to adopt to "give consumers maximum access to a growing wealth of digital content on the reading device of their choice," Schr der said. Bob Bolick, v-p and director of new business development for McGraw-Hill's Professional Book Group, said, "This report will be prescriptive, not descriptive. We will say what we think ought to be done, not just recount the number of possible options."

Structure Remains the Same
Though opinions regarding the final shape of the e-publishing business are numerous and varied, a sort "sense of the meeting" formed, beginning in the seminars and carried out on the show floor, that the structure of the industry will not change much in handling e-books. For the most part the chain remains the same: author-publisher-distributor-retailer-reader, with some well-known authors publishing their own works electronically.

While the functions being performed are unlikely to change, the performers may switch roles, according to observers. Steve Riggio, vice-chairman of Barnesandnoble.com noted that the boundaries of publishing "are being broken down," and explained that in the case of B&N, "we can print at the B&N distribution center. In two years, we'll be able to print in the store. In five years, we'll be able to print in your home."

Riggio's sense of time-to-market for e-products was ech d throughout the show. In his keynote, Jeff Bezos laid it out: "I definitely think this [e-books] is a big deal. But it's not going to happen in the next two or three years, not in a big way. The reasons are many: there are huge piracy issues; there are significant intellectual and copyright issues that need to be worked out; and, most fundamentally, I think the quality of the display devices isn't good enough yet."

Versaware's and Microsoft's booths gave attendees the chance to judge the technology for themselves. Microsoft showed titles in Reader on PocketPC, laptop and desktop machines, demonstrating the handsome ClearType text. Versaware went further, displaying the same title in each of the e-formats available, including Adobe Acrobat and Palm OS, for easy comparison.

The IDG booth included an Internet cafe, with demonstrations of two new products, Frommers.com and the Dummies Answer Network. Though both of these are based on IDG brands, Bill Barry, president of IDG Books, made the point that these are not old books in new formats. "Frommers.com lets users ask questions about things that aren't in the travel guides, in ordinary language," he said. "The same is true of the Dummies Answer Network. The Dummies brand has been combined with Ask Jeeves. But Jeeves's creators originally had 6,000 questions with prepared answers; we have 60,000 questions with ready answers."

Bookface.com, ebrary.com, ibooks.com and RealRead all showed text-browsing systems with various payment and copy- right protection methods. Computer publisher O'Reilly & Associates announced at the show that it is joining with ibooks.com to launch O'Reilly Unbound, to make 160 O'Reilly titles available for browsing and purchase via the Internet. Linda Walsh, O'Reilly's director of e-book publishing, told PW that the company likes the ibooks model of free browsing of limited portions of a text. "Only the text relevant to the original query is displayed, with the rest 'greeked out,'" Walsh explained, "so our intellectual property is protected."

Bookface is interesting because it allows free browsing, supported by ads that surround the text, an idea that many feel is about to take off, as it allows maximum access to text for minimum cost.

ION systems/GalaxyLibrary showed a publishing system with an interesting screen interface. In ION's patent-pending system, a book's font size, number of columns per page and length of a line of type are linked, based on original research into the mechanics of reading.

Many of the tech exhibitors, both established companies and startups, didn't actually have a product to show, but were demonstrating "proof-of-concept." IBM, for instance, was showing how an e-commerce package might help fill out an end-to-end system, publisher to consumer, though its rights management system won't be released commercially for some time. Likewise, ebrary, which has a model of free browsing, with paid downloads and printouts, won't be released for at least a month.

An intriguing device aiming for distribution for Christmas is London-based Davtel's t.Boook. An e-book that d sn't rely on the Internet, t.Boook allows customers to download titles from a database, with the charges for the transaction appearing on the customer's telephone bill.
Microsoft's Lyssa Browne demos
the forthcoming laptop version of
Reader for Per Erikstad of Oslo's
Bibliotek Sentralen.
Print on Demand Is E-commerce
A number of complex partnerships were announced that underscored the idea that print on demand is part of e-distribution. Ebrary, Bookface and ibooks all send customers to e-retailers to purchase texts, but they also all are making partnerships with POD services to deliver p-books.
Xerox, Sprout and DeHart's Printing Services demonstrated distribute-then-print networks aimed at small businesses, like bookstores. NetLibrary unveiled the most complex and comprehensive arrangement--a plan to work with Xerox to develop in-store kiosks for browsing and printing titles from its e-book database. NetLibrary has also signed letters of intent with Sprout and Bookmobile, a Minnesota-based producer of POD books, to provide ready-to-print book files for their delivery nets.

ABA chief Avin Domnitz especially liked the small-store emphasis. "We applaud netLibrary's concentration on independent bookstores and its open network that allows independents to serve their customers," he said.

In the end, this show emphasized that e-business will need this practical kind of basis to survive. A solid e-publishing industry will be based on electronic distribution, with ordering and fulfillment systems that are integrated, and with products that customers want, including e-books in all formats and p-books printed on demand near the point of use.

Return to BEA Report
Back To
Search | Bestsellers | News | Features | Children's Books | Bookselling
Interview | Industry Update | International | Classifieds | Authors On the Highway
About PW | Subscribe
Copyright 2000. Publishers Weekly. All rights reserved.