Adobe's epub format and reader

The Adobe announcements last week were very interesting, but not for the reasons most people seem to think.

Here's the real story: The most important producer of print publishing tools is backing an XML-based format for electronic delivery, by making it a (relatively) painless option after preparing something for print. This means the new electronic format can come out the kind of editorial process publishers are already using. With all the limitations that this XML format has, it's much more in reach of publishers who can't afford to change all their editorial processes in a single go.

There's been a lot of concentration on the idea that a standard format will speed ebook reader adoption. This is something that vendors like Sony are realizing is important. Is this their first open format use in electronic media?. And indeed for the long-term future, I think that this is an important issue for vendors. For publishers and businesses right now, though, the focus on new reading platforms is insignificant outside of niche markets.

The Web is the platform that matters, especially for non-fiction content. At Tizra we've concentrated on PDF as the format that most publishers have in quantity, and on making it as close to a first-class web citizen as possible: that means we don't re-implement features (like bookmarks and emailing links) that web browsers already have, but instead we create a site where those features work as usual. That also means delivering pages as embedded content in HTML (with file download as an option, where it makes sense).

With our deep XML experience, we are going to be looking closely at how to take what is still designed as a monolithic file format for delivery and "Warehousing", and really get web marketing and product oomph out of it. Disaggregating .epub files will be as important as it is for PDF, but the results will be a little more precise and considerably more flexible.

And when we do it, PDF backfile or primary content will be delivered and managed the same way as .epub documents are managed.

The importance of XML is real, but practicality of PDF gets short shrift

Publisher's weekly seems to have missed a key part of my message during Rebecca's and my backlist tutorial, which is that the long-term term payoff of XML is sufficiently expensive and disruptive that it can't happen quickly for publishers with significantly smaller resources than Thomson's, and that image based solutions like PDF can meet a lot of needs very quickly, for publishers that don't want to postpone full entry into online markets another 2-5 years.
The Adobe announcements (especially integration of new e-book formats into print-oriented production tools) seems to present a more practical way for smaller publishers to change their workflows than the "big-bang" conversion project. But that kind of incremental strategy leaves existing PDF and image backlists just the way they are, and means that PDF will be a key part of all solutions for online marketing and product definition for the foreseeable future.
Sometimes the future's so bright that it can blind you to the present, or tomorrow.
I'll have more to say about Adobe's news, but I can say that I don't think the reader is the interesting part, even if it is a very Flash-ey demo

Pure Coolness

I have seen far from all the talks here, but from what I've seen and the buzz that I've heard the winner of the "coolest presentation award" was Manolis Kelaidis. He showed a paper e-book device that he's been prototyping. By means of conductive ink traces, a person touching a button on the page can trigger an action by an embedded processor.  He had a book where pads on the page triggered actions on his laptop: going to web pages, playing songs on iTunes, and so forth. 

It  was a hand-bound Bluetooth book!

There's clearly a huge expense still involved in platform building and so on, but everything he did is compatible with contemporary printing technology, using inks that are commercially available (not experimental). Other developments in printable circuitry play into this as well: printable batteries, printable electronic components,  printable speakers.

Of course this is a technology, not a solution, and there's a huge chain of associated requirements -- protocols for books to notify other devices; security regimes to define so that your new books won't hack your computer.  Based on experience in other media, conventions for authoring and use of the new technology are likely to be the most dificult adaptation.

But the great thing about paper is that you can write on it!

I immediately started thinking that this would be a great addition to a notebook. I'd buy a book with 10 generic buttons to a page, and any of them could be mapped to a function on my machine easily. So  I could take notes on something I was recording as audio or video and whack a button on the page to make a link. Or to record the page that I'm browsing right at this moment. 100 pages is 1,000 special buttons to memorize some data!

The other interesting thing is that you can make conductive traces by using a silver ink marking pen, so you could just draw buttons onto a page anywhere you want, connecting them to traces on the edge.

If the notebook shell had a slot for a memory and the processor, and a unique ID build in, you might be able to bring the hardware costs way down because you'd just have to clip the brain onto the book, and the brain would know what book it was connected to, so you could have fewer chunks of electronics.

Links to follow soon

Start of two waves?

The first wave is a wave of posts. I've arrived at the TOC conference, and gave my tutorial yesterday. I expect that the conference will give me ideas for several blog posts over the course of the conference. I've also got some stored up ideas that came from preparing the tutorial that should come out in a while...

I have hope that the second wave will be a wave of action. I was gratified to hear that Digitizing Your Backfile was the tutorial with the highest registration. I'm sure there's selection bias at a conference like this, but it said to me that perhaps people are getting ready to act on projects. I hope that the good tutorial attendance means people are ready to act, not just test the waters. The water is great, and it's time to swim!

I do have the sense that after a pause for a deep preparatory breath, online publishing is now heating up rapidly, and this time it's heading for action, not just interest. As people act, I'd like to be sure that they act carefully, and think about all the options (including ours, of course).

I sometimes worry that our no-development self-managed model is confusingly different to people who have been conditioned by years in which expensive custom builds were the only way to get stuff online without being bundled into someone else's aggregated product.