Though it has watched a succession of major e-publishing operations go out of business, Adobe , the firm offering Adobe Acrobat and other e-publishing software, remains convinced that e-publishing and e-books will eventually grow into a significant market. has shuttered its operation and now is folding. Indeed, Adobe laid off 150 employees last month across all its divisions, including the e-book unit. But John Alexander, director of cross-media publishing, e-books, told PW that Adobe remains bullish on e-books. E-book sales are small but growing each year, he said; "the numbers out there are good." He emphasized that "e-publishing isn't just about delivering e-books. It's creating e-content, managing it and delivery. Using e-publishing tools, a publisher can affect the workflow of all its books, print or digital."

Adobe offers such tools as Framemaker, Pagemaker and InDesign for creating e-content, and Adobe Content Server, which packages content with DRM and makes it available for sale. Adobe also offers two prominent e-readers: the popular Acrobat Reader (for laptops and desktop computers) and the Adobe Acrobat e-book reader, which runs on laptop and desktops as well as Palm OS and Pocket PC handhelds. Adobe has also just released a version of Acrobat Reader for Pocket PCs that will allow the viewing of PDF documents in their original form on handhelds. And at some point, Alexander expects Adobe to release a "unified reader" that will combine Acrobat and the Adobe e-book reader, although he declined to give a timetable.

"You have to balance the risk of not using DRM with the work involved in using it by consumers," Alexander said, discussing the need to protect content without alienating consumers. "There's probably more pirating of print books than e-books. We have to keep from creating roadblocks to e-books with the DRM." He added, "You can make DRM work by hiding it, making it transparent."

Today's DRM software allows publishers to decide among a variety of levels of content protection, he explained: "We see across the range of publishing that many publishers are loosening the reins on their content; they are turning off some of the guards. Publishers have to decide what's an acceptable level of shrinkage in the digital world."