On the heels of a fabulous BookTech East 2001, take pause to reflect on the new opportunities afforded by budding technologies
It seems somewhat redundant to say these are exciting times for the book publishing industry, when clearly this is not a new phenomenon. Technologies supporting the digital publishing process are virtually spewing from R&D labs like molten lava. There's a lot of hot stuff out there from which to pick and choose. And to raise the industry's temperature even higher, the business is abuzz with tales of publishers taking bold leaps of faith with new media business models.
Just a few weeks ago BookTech East descended on New York City's Hilton Hotel and Towers like a lightning bolt from above. The weeks leading up to the show were electric with anticipation as suppliers and vendors geared up to make a number of announcements, many of which are based on print-to-Web (or vice versa) convergence. Franklin Electronic Publishers released its content conversion developers' kit (CDK) for the Franklin Reader. The CDK (www.franklin.com/devzone/) enables publishers to produce e-books for the eBookMan multimedia platform based on proprietary SGML.
Indraweb (www.indraweb.com) made its debut at BookTech East, unveiling its new technology and service that allows traditional publishers to make S-books (aka Surfable Books) of their content. S-Books, note Indraweb officials, are targeted to the Web/Internet user who's willing to pay for extended deep searches driven by content in published documents, research materials and books. Already, Indraweb's announced a notable client. Its first surfable book, the World Book Ency-clopedia, can be seen at www.surfable books.com. The edition features more than one million Web links to more than 20,000 complementary topics.
netLibrary, known as an e-book and online content provider, launched its Global Print Sol-ution, a short-run digital printing service that allows publishers to make their content available to a secure network of digital book manufacturers, including Book-mobile, Dehart's Printing Service, Edwards Brothers, Integrated Book Technology and Matrix Digital Printing. The developer notes that the Global Print Solution combines its file conversion, storage and distribution capabilities with strategically positioned digital print suppliers. Publishers select job-specific printers from netLibrary's network, and manufacturers pull print-ready files from netLibrary, produce and fulfill the order.
Océ introduced the CPS700 (Color Production System), shipping later this year. The printer employs seven direct imaging units; images are "pressed" onto the substrate by the Océ Color Copy Press. Océ Image Logic software manages reproduction quality. The CPS700 offers a shorter paper path, which minimizes paper jams and down time. The print engine operates at a slick 25-A4-pages per minute.
OverDrive launched a free online service (www.ebookexpress .com), which takes virtually any text or word processing native file and converts it, on-the-fly, to Microsoft Reader eBook format. The system also enables publishers to add original art to the e-book cover. Behind the scenes, the site is supported by OverDrive servers running the developer's ReaderWorks Soft-ware Developers Kit. Now offering its solution to the global Internet community, OverDrive established licensing and services contracts with leading publishers like Simon & Schuster, McGraw-Hill, Random House, Harcourt Brace and John Wiley & Sons.
Questia.com launched its online reference library for college students. This subscription-based model (about $20 per month) offers more than 50,000 titles; Questia officials expect to have more than 250,000 titles in the library by 2003. In January, Questia announced that 135 publishers have signed on to provide content via the site, including Pearson Education, Rutgers University Press, Amadeus Press, Perseus Books Group and Stanford University Press.
Speaking from a number of BookTech East session podiums, leading publishers spoke of topics near and dear to the audience's heart: ASPs, e-book formatting, marketing and distribution, and print on demand. The publishers were generous and candid in sharing their companies' strategies for adapting to the changing times.
For many publishers, e-books and online content distribution offer ripe new markets. Although sales of digital titles equate to less than one percent of their print counterparts' potential, consumer behaviors are changing, suggests Steve Kotrch, director of electronic publishing technologies, Simon & Schuster. "People want to see books that don't just lie there, books with cross references like you'll find on a Web site."
As a response to the changing marketplace, Simon & Schuster is taking an aggressive approach to e-publishing. According to Kotrch, "Every book to which we get the rights will become an e-book."
World Book was also aggressive in tackling the new e-book space. In 1998, the publisher realized its first online revenue potential, according to Michael Ross, executive vice president/ publisher. In 2000, it more than doubled online revenues. Despite the success, Ross points out that publishers should be motivated to enter the e-space by numbers rather than novelty. "It's not as important to be the first as it is to be profitable." And it makes sense for traditional publishers to grow their print lines to support the e-investments they'll make to break into the new markets.
"At World Book, a print version of a children's encyclopedia still managed to rope in more revenue in a single year than all of our digital ventures combined," Ross adds. "Rather than quickly abandoning traditional publishing, transition slowly. Today's success depends on both print and electronic blended together."
Publishers are taking heed. The New Yorker recently signed a deal with Microsoft, whereby the publisher provided three of its e-book titles (in Microsoft Reader format) through Barnes & Noble.com and the magazine's companion Web site.
Houghton Mifflin's College Division works will soon be online, as well. The publisher recently partnered with Rovia (www.rovia.com) to make its e-textbooks available through the Web to colleges and univer-sities by the Spring 2001 semester. These online texts will be completely interactive, with quizzes, videos and other multimedia enhancements, and will allow readers to annotate text and highlight key passages.
Simon & Schuster's Kotrch also notes that one solution for reducing operational costs is to better manage your publishing house's assets, including text, images and project management documentation. "CDs are not the most efficient means of storage," he suggests. The good news: "Digital storage network prices are dropping and offer the advantages of not having loose assets inefficiently floating around."
Maintain your focus
During these fast-paced times, it's easy to get too wrapped up in choosing file formats, preflighting tools, suppliers and proofing solutions, but keep in mind that technologies are only a small link in the chain. "It takes people to make even the most automated technology work. Don't forget that your best assets walk out the door at the end of each day."
By Gretchen A. Kirby
- New York City