Two Roads Diverged
A Review of New E-Publishing Products From Adobe and Microsoft
By Danny O. Snow
New technologies may make publishers want to echo Robert Frost's classic lament, that a traveller can follow only one fork in the road at a time.
Major new products specifically designed for delivery of online content have set the publishing industry abuzz, amid a flurry of controversy over earlier efforts to bring e-books more squarely into mainstream markets. Software industry leaders now offer e-publishers new strategies for the presentation of online content to readers -- but both systems must face the challenge of protecting intellectual property for the author and publisher.
WebBuy and PDF Merchant software from Adobe Systems were rolled out earlier this year, promising secure delivery of online content across a wide range of hardware and software platforms.
Meanwhile, industry watchers are closely following the introduction of the new Pocket PC devices and Microsoft Reader, designed to make electronic content almost universally available.
In March, Simon & Schuster released Stephen King's electronic-only novella Riding the Bullet, and received orders for more than 400,000 copies within 24 hours. As the first electronic-only bestseller, the book marked a watershed in the history of publishing. Yet within 48 hours of its release, pirated copies of King's story began appearing on the Internet, raising serious issues about the security of e-books.
Nevertheless, by the end of May, a new partnership between Microsoft, Simon & Schuster and Random House was announced, including the release of Michael Crichton's thriller Timeline and other e-books for the Pocket PC with Microsoft Reader. According to The New York Times, the releases were planned "even if it is not clear yet how protected the electronic titles are from hackers."
Time Warner also jumped into the e-book arena when it announced in May it will launch iPublish.com at Time Warner Books in the first quarter of 2001. The venture will include a suite of channels -- iRead, iWrite and iLearn -- covering a broad range of online content ranging from major bestsellers to books by aspiring writers. And of course, the venture is potentially strengthened by an impending corporate relationship with America Online, the world's largest internet service provider.