Consumer of Acceptance of E-Books Grows
A new consumer survey finds 70% of readers are ready to buy electronic books if they can read them on any computer.
The survey also finds 67% of consumers are ready to read electronic books, and 62% would borrow e-books from the library.
The research was sponsored by the Open E-Book Forum (OEBF), an industry trade association that promotes e-book technologies.
But if consumers are ready to thumb through electronic pages, sentiment among leading book publishers hasn't changed. They believe consumers and retailers still aren't ready for e-books.
Publishers are also wondering how to integrate e-books into manufacturing and distribution workflows originally designed to produce paper books.
"The challenges of electronic book publishing remains the same, and that is figuring out how to marshal our content into a digital format," says Bob Bolick, VP of new business development with the McGraw-Hill Companies, in New York. "You have to work e-books into your standard workflow, which is 98% of what we do. Where do they fit? They don't exist, they're not quantifiable, and that creates back office issues."
Tim McGuire, vice president of production and manufacturing for Simon & Schuster in New York, agrees.
"When e-books first appeared, we wondered if there would [ultimately] be much of a business in manufacturing books," McGuire says. "Then we released [Stephen King's] Riding the Bullet, and while it did well among computer users, it wasn't properly received by traditional book readers-the ordinary consumers."
REAL READERS, NOT GEEKS
Acceptance of e-books among ordinary consumers is changing fast, e-book advocates say. The OEBF's survey is one tool advocates are using to make their case. Survey managers conducted interviews at a public book fair, seeking ordinary consumers, without regard to their level of computer experience.
"These people aren't often surveyed on electronic books, because most of those surveys are done online," says Harold Henke, a principal consultant for Chartula, a Denver consulting firm hired by the OEBF to conduct the research. "This is good news for publishers, because the results suggest that everyday people who like to read are now open to reading electronic books."
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