Consumer of Acceptance of E-Books Grows
But growing acceptance doesn't overcome the technical challenges facing book publishers. In addition to figuring out how to integrate e-book production into their workflow, publishers are concerned about compatibility.
Multiple technology vendors, such as Microsoft Corp. and Palm Inc., offer comparable but incompatible e-book devices and software. This means publishers have to choose one e-book software over another. Or they must integrate multiple formats into their workflow-a costly proposition.
"Interoperability for electronic book publishing is needed," says Bolick of McGraw-Hill. "Publishers will be able to focus on a single e-book technology, and consumers will be able to choose from a variety of e-book software and devices."
E-book promoters are responding to these concerns. Last August, the OEBF published a specification that mandates interoperability of member company e-book products.
The Open E-Book Publication Structure Specification (or OEBPS) uses XML to create e-book data files that can be loaded and displayed by any program or device that supports the standard.
About 85 OEBF members, including Adobe, Microsoft, and Palm, support the 1.2 version of the standard adopted last year. A 2.0 release is being developed.
"Publishers can easily output their books as OEB files," says Nick Bogaty, executive director of the OEBF, in New York. "From there they can be converted to various [proprietary] e-book formats, like Microsoft Reader or Palm Reader, or a Web browser."
Despite workflow integration issues and the lack of established distribution channels for e-books, Bogaty remains confident that large-scale consumer acceptance is around the corner: "It is a small but rapidly growing industry. Our survey shows more people want to read e-books, and they want more e-books on their digital devices."
- Warren Chiara