Publishers at The E-Book Starting Gate
by Rose Blessing
How many e-book content distributors should a publisher partner with? Which books should be made into e-books? How should the process be managed? What are the pitfalls?
If it's your job to figure that out at your company, take a tip from Kate Tentler, a publisher at Simon & Schuster Online in New York City who has been arranging to make Simon & Schuster books available digitally for about a year. Tentler's approach is to keep things simple, with an eye to the long term.
For example: how are online distributors chosen? Simple: They are evaluated one by one. Among the most important criteria is security--ensuring that Simon & Schuster Online's content cannot be widely distributed for free once it's been released in digital form. The security issue is so important that Simon & Schuster is asking for third-party security assessments.
In February, the company had confirmed arrangements with SoftBook, NuvoMedia and Peanut Press, but was talking with "many, many others," says Tentler. "We are not going to limit who we work with. Our goal is to sell books."
Next question: Which books should be distributed as e-books? Those decisions are made book by book. "We're focused very much on front list right now," says Tentler. One big reason: It is simply less work to gather the electronc files and permissions for a front list book than a back list book. Often, killing two birds with one stone, an author's back list books are released as digital books as the author releases a new book.
As she chooses e-book business partners and books one by one, Tentler is mindful that she is gradually setting up internal processes that her company may be following for a long, long time. Though they are not just like printed books, e-books do have proofing, production and delivery cycles too, she notes.
So she mentally catalogs the steps of each project, so that she can share her observations with colleagues as the e-book business grows. "Setting up processes is a huge part of what we do," she says.
E-book Piracy Protection Plans Evolve
Is there a 100 percent foolproof piracy protection plan for e-books? No, not really. As many speakers in the eight e-book-focused sessions at BookTech 2000 pointed out, publishers must walk a fine line to strike a balance between protection plans strong enough to deter piracy and arrangements so stringent they discourage buyers.
Fortunately for publishers, e-book content distributors are universally anxious to provide copy protection arrangements that publishers have confidence in.
Copy protection measures differ widely, but often employ one or more of the following mechanisms to protect content once it is sold to a user as a digital file
--Content is locked to a single machine, using software mechanisms that record a computer's registration number, for example.
--Content is usable only by a single type of machine, such as a Rocket E-book, SoftBook or Palm Pilot.
--Content is usable on many types of devices, but only with proprietary reader software.
--Content is readable only by registered users logging on with the correct password.
---Content is never downloaded; it is stored on the sellers' server. Access is monitored.
--Content is unlocked only by a software "key" that the purchaser buys.
Getting tied up in knots over this issue? Don't forget: Your print books today are not 100 percent protected; anyone with a photocopy machine or an OCR scanner can pick up the information in a print book, many speakers pointed out.
How e-book distributors combine and implement copy protection mechanisms varies widely, as the examples in the listing beginning at right show.
Time and space did not permit us to interview and write up every player in the market within this feature story. Some companies beyond those listed here who will influence the evolution of content security strategies include
--e-book content distributor SoftLock
--digital resources management service providers Infinite Ink and PublishOne
--digital rights management solutions providers Xerox and Intertrust
--Software supplier Adobe, provider of PDF Merchant lock-and-key software for publishers and the companion consumer product Web Buy. Web Buy has recently been incorporated into Adobe Acrobat, so its impact is likely to be widespread.
--Software supplier Glassbook, distributor of technical, B-to-B content on subscription basis
Books 24x7.com stores publishers' content in an XML-tagged format that allows sophisticated searching.
Content is maintained on a Books24x7 server. Though printing pages as copy is being read is permitted, downloading content files is not. Copy is password-protected; only one person can use a log-on password at any one time. Log-on from multiple computers or locations is permitted, but still only one user of a password can log on at a time. Books24x7 watches for abnormal patterns that might suggest users are copying material or giving away a password--such as log-ons from too many IP sites too quickly, or too many pages per minute being accessed or printed. If severe enough, further access is denied.
Even when printing is allowed, it is possible to ensure that, essentially, the people using the content are the ones who paid for it.
Internet content distributor ebrary.com profile
Ebrary.com allows prospective buyers to read and search full documents for free. Files are sold in PDF form; some books can be printed on demand and delivered. Ebrary plans to allow sale of parts of books; the publisher can dictate how much of a document can be sold as parts. Buyers can set up a debit account called an electronic wallet or, for purchases over $5 only, make a direct credit card purchase.
If a download is purchased, the document is locked to the purchaser's hardware device and cannot be used anywhere else. If a printout of a document or a portion of document is purchased, Ebrary can control the number of printouts allowed. The buyer can also buy permission to copy and paste the content into his own materials.
Free viewing and searching maximizes content exposure, which is great advertising and thus maximizes revenues. Also, by allowing quick and easy sale of parts of documents, Ebrary allows publishers to capture revenues that might have otherwise been lost to readers using photocopy machines to capture a page or two of information from hard copy books.
Internet content distributor Fatbrain.com
Though the company has so far not focused on a single content area, Fatbrain.com does specialize in documents that are too long to be practical to print out but shorter than the printed book. Documents, which are sold as PDF files by Fatbrain, can be distributed as e-books or printed and shipped.
The first time (and only the first time) a Fatbrain document is opened, the computer contacts Fatbrain.com to verify the License Key entered by the user. If the License Key is valid, Fatbrain.com transmits a file that will unlock the document. Once the document is unlocked, the accompanying License Key will only work on the computer where it was first opened.
Allowing a buyer to purchase a file for any computer but locking it to a computer after purchase allows selling flexibility while protecting publishers' content.
Internet content distributor ibooks.com
Ibooks.com hosts professional reference books. Prospective buyers can search documents (stored in an enhanced version of HTML) for free; but when content is found, content that is not directly relevant is masked. Content is sold in units of one book at a time.
At this time, what a browser actually purchases is access to the book on the ibooks.com server; documents are not downloaded. Only one user of any authorized password can view a book at a time. The company is evaluating technologies that would enable protected downloads in the future.
The ibooks.com sale process mimics the traditional book sale process, in which a bookstore browser only has time to scan books quickly, not to read them in their entirety, in the store. With books sold only in their entirety, publishers can easily capitalize on existing customer loyalties and integrate e-book business operations into print book business operations.
E-book distributor and provider of e-book collections to academic, educational and corporate markets
At www.netLibrary.com, NetLibrary markets both digital libraries and individual e-books. The books are maintained in HTML format and rendered on the fly when accessed. If a library or organization has purchased 10 copies of one title, that means that only 10 people at a time may view that title.
Buyers can subscribe to access documents online, in which case the documents are simply not downloadable. Individual books have serial numbers; a NetLibrary proprietary program monitors usage. Because book borrowers access the system by entering a log-in name and password, NetLibrary can track system use and flag aberrations. If a user is rapidly viewing multiple pages of an e-book--a pattern that indicates the possibility of page-by-page printing--NetLibrary will display a copyright notice and instruct the user to discontinue his or her actions. If the pattern continues, the account becomes disabled for a period of time and the event is logged for tracking purposes.
When the user has permission to download files, files are encrypted and readable only by NetLibrary's proprietary reader software. NetLibrary does allow a few pages of a document to be copied, just as many people would copy a few pages of a borrowed library book, the company explains. However, the software does not allow wholesale copying; if an attempt to copy is detected the file will be destroyed. Files "lent" to users are destroyed automatically after one week.
NetLibrary's set-up illustrates that even digital files like e-books can be "lent" by libraries.
E-book distributor and NetLibrary subsidiary Peanut Press
At www.peanutpress.com, Peanut Press offers consumer trade books, including many science fiction titles, in a file format readable by Peanut Reader software running on a Palm Pilot and a few other select hand-held devices.
Peanut Press encrypts books using a process that incorporates the customer's name and credit card number. Every time the purchaser opens the file, even after purchase, the software asks for the name and credit card number.
Because consumers are unlikely to give away their credit card number, book sharing is unlikely.
Digital rights management clearinghouse/back office services provider Reciprocal
Reciprocal handles the intricacies of rights tracking and enforcement for publishers. Functions include transaction processing, which can extend to subscription and license management; customer service management including dispute resolution (for example, what happens when the buyer's computer crashes and he loses the book he bought); and royalty payment reporting. Reciprocal relies on its own Digital Clearing Services software. Publishers setting up a relationship with Reciprocal can also implement DRM technologies from companies that Reciprocal has partnerships with, including Adobe, Intertrust, Microsoft, Preview Systems, and Xerox.
Arrrangements vary, but typically encrypted content files are widely distributed, while sale of digital "keys," which can contain various access permissions, is controlled.
Controlling the sale and distribution of a "key" instead of the books themselves yields efficiency and flexibiility: 1. The digital "key" files are small and easy to download. 2. Encrypted content files can be widely distributed, for example as files e-mailed from friend to friend or on CDs or other portable media. 3. The "key" format facilitates storage, recall and reuse of customer data such as contact info, hardware specs and permissions packages.
E-book distributor and electronic conversion facilitator Versaware
At EbookCity.com, Versaware hosts books that it has licensed from publishers and converted to its Versabook format, which can incorporate multimedia, hyperlinking, interactive animations and links to Web sites. Only consumers who have downloaded the free Versabook reader software to their computers can view the books online, download them to a PC, or export them to their choice of hand-held devices.
Once a consumer has purchased a book, Versaware maintains the file on its own servers for the consumer's convenience. A registered user can read while online from any location or may download those books to up to only two individual computers (probably a home computer and an office computer); the files are not readable on any other computers. Controls prevent more than one person from using a single password.
Tying everything to the Versabook software format and storing it online is customer-friendly as it allows users to have the flexibility to read books on a number of devices, even as publishers have assurance that their material is protected.