UPs Team Up To Offer E-books
Calvin Reid -- 1/8/01
University presses planonline access to history e-books for both scholars and general readers

Supported by a $3-million grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies has launched a cooperative venture with seven university presses to develop frontlist and backlist electronic books in history, aimed at academia but accessible as well to a general audience.

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The project's goal is not only to encourage university presses to digitize their works, making them more widely available, but to encourage presses and their authors to consider electronic editions at the earliest stages of a book's development. The History E-book Project was launched in 1999 and is based at the New York City offices of New York University Press. The participating presses are Columbia University, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the University of Michigan, Oxford University, Rutgers and NYU. The project has four full time staffers plus several NYU Press staffers who work on it part-time. The project will also work closely with five of the ACLS's 65 members (including the American Historical Association).

Nancy Lin, electronic publishing specialist at NYU Press, who will work as a technical coordinator for the project, told PW the project expects to take advantage of traditional scholarly reviews of texts and journals, and to encourage scholarly presses to develop in-house expertise. The project is also looking to develop technical standards and software tools for e-book texts, as well as to streamline production costs. "We want authors to think in terms of e-texts, rather than just a straight conversion of text to digital. ACLS selected a spectrum of UPs that have different specialties and experience," Lin added.

The co-directors of the project are Ron Musto and Eileen Gardner, a husband-and-wife team of Italian history scholars, who offer extensive experience in academic, consumer and electronic publishing. The two jointly own and operate Italica Press (, a small firm specializing in both print and digital editions of medieval and Renaissance literature and modern Italian literature in translation.

Waiting for Franklin's

The e-book community continues to await the announcement of a firm shipping date for Franklin Electronic Publishers' eBookman, a handheld book-reading device and multimedia content player. The multiuse device, which won the inaugural technology prize at the International Ebook awards in Frankfurt, not only offers text reading, but also plays audiobooks and music in the MP3 format, and allows voice recording. It is also an organizer and a notepad. The device comes in three models, priced at $129, $179 and $229.
Gregory Winsky, executive v-p at FEP, declined to give PW a firm release date. He said the device will ship "commercially this quarter." At the time of release, Winsky said, FEP will offer a list of about 7,000 titles, roughly divided between text e-books and audiobooks. Winsky also explained that the eBookman offers an "open-but-secure" architecture that enables third-party software developers to write applications for the device. FEP has released a software developer's kit at The company has also released a content developer's kit that provides information on producing content for eBookman and discusses its Digital Rights Management controls.
"The eBookman addresses the major concern about e-books. Our DRM controls will allow developers to provide applications and content for the device that will remain secure," said Winsky.
--Calvin Reid

Musto told PW that the History E-book Project plans to launch a searchable, subscription Web site service that will publish 85 frontlist e-books (20 titles are currently close to contract signing) and offer online access to some 500 to 600 critically important backlist titles over the next few years. The project's emphasis will be on offering online access rather than downloadable files. And while the site will initially be aimed at libraries, Gardner told PW that the project expects to make the site available to individual scholars and to the general public. Their hope is to "encourage scholars to write for their colleagues, but also to reach a general audience beyond scholars. We want history to become a part of the public conversation," said Musto. The participating presses will identify appropriate texts to be offered as e-books and the project will use the Mellon grant money to pay licensing fees.

Gardner said the Web site, currently under development by Digital Library Production Services, will offer the titles and will also allow the university presses to brand their titles and point to their own sites. She said the History Project site should begin offering access to backlist titles by this summer. Among the 20 proposals moving toward frontlist publication are works by such distinguished academics as French literary scholar John Darnton and theater historian Joseph Donohue, who both have proposed works that they think would be best presented in electronic format.

Gardner told PW that she thinks trade book publishers will be interested in the History E-book Project. "We want a workable business model. Any publisher can learn something from what we're doing. It's going to very different from other e-publishing programs." More information on the project is at

BookVirtual Offers The Look of Print

Paper books are not going away," said Patrick Ames, founder of BookVirtual, a publishing interface that re-creates the look of print and paper for digital books. But despite his faith in print, Ames believes that BookVirtual technology will enhance the digital offerings of publishers and attract readers to the e-book medium.

Ames has been in the publishing industry--both book and digital--for the past 15 years. In addition to being a published author, Ames was editor-in-chief at Breitenbush Books in Portland, Ore. In 1991, he founded and became head of Adobe Press, and in 1997 he co-founded, with John Warnock (CEO of Adobe Systems), Octavo Corporation (, a company that preserves rare books and manuscripts digitally.

"BookVirtual is the path to create a better book, or re-create a better book, that can be distributed worldwide with ease and has all the beauty and functionality of a paper book, and yet uses all the digital heritage to log onto the knowledge trails on the Internet," explained Ames.

BookVirtual's customizable features are controlled by an application called the Book Engine. The Book Engine allows publishers and readers to control different aspects of the books' interface--the look, color and texture of the pages and the size of text, along with a suite of multimedia features. The engine can bring the qualities of print publishing and commercial branding to digital publishing, while featuring all the digital enhancements (such as sound, moving images and links) that add value and convenience to e-books. Ames also noted that Book Engine customizes digital books to suit different cultures, languages and reading habits.

Will books created by one technology become unreadable when newer technologies are introduced? Ames told PW that BookVirtual has developed a patent-pending technology that will allow for easy migration of BookVirtual files to a new format.

On its Web site (, BookVirtual offers Jason Epstein's essay on the future of publishing as a sample BookVirtual text, along with sample texts by Lewis Carroll, Charles Darwin and Rainer Maria Rilke in PDF format. Flash, XML, HTML and B are also available. BookVirtual is located in Palo Alto, Calif.; the company is currently seeking investors and partners.
--Leslie Kang