Amazon to Offer E-books; Adobe, MS Reader Face Off
Edward Nawotka and Calvin Reid -- 9/4/00

Less than two weeks after launching an e-book superstore with B&, Microsoft is teaming up with to do the same thing. Although the industry has been waiting for to offer e-books, this is the first official announcement about its e-book retailing plans. To open the e-bookstore, Microsoft will offer a customized version of its MS Reader e-book software to customers.

Lyn Blake, general manager of Books, told PW the e-bookstore would launch "soon" and that the MS Reader e-book software would be the "preferred," but not the exclusive, e-book format offered. The store will offer other e-book formats, she said, and it will probably offer MS Reader-formatted titles "in the low thousands." Eventually, Microsoft expects to offer more than 10,000 e-titles.

Much of the activity at Seybold revolved around the competition between Adobe Systems, manufacturer of the widely used Adobe Acrobat document reader, and Microsoft and its newly released MS Reader application, and their efforts to capture the market for digital document distribution.

Adobe's Acrobat is the dominant digital document reader, with more than 180 million downloads. Acrobat documents look exactly like their print editions. But Acrobat is looking to establish itself in the e-book market through its relationship with Glassbook, a Boston-based e-book services firm that Adobe acquired last week. Adobe's purchase of Glassbook should come as no surprise to the industry; Glassbook's proprietary e-book reader has always used a licensed variation of Adobe's Acrobat format.

It's getting too difficult to remember which format is really preferred by which retailer. Despite B&'s recent agreement to distribute Microsoft Reader through its e-book store, Steve Riggio, vice-chairman and acting CEO of B&, was just as ready to praise Adobe Acrobat: "Whether consumers want to print out their e-books or read them on screen, only Adobe PDF comes close to duplicating the experience of the printed page."

Following the Glassbook announcement, Adobe also announced a strategic alliance with B& to expand its presence on the B& site. Adobe Acrobat and Glassbook's e-book version of Acrobat are both designed to read portable document format files, and both will be available through the B& site.

Adobe also announced an agreement with iUniverse, the online print-on-demand publishing company that is 49% owned by Barnes & Noble, to use Adobe software tools on its Web site, allowing users to upload and download material with greater ease. Adobe offers consumers an obvious advantage over Microsoft Reader: it allows e-books to be printed out, unlike Microsoft Reader.