|Volume 17, Number 3 • March 2000|
Report from the Field •
Seybold Seminars Boston: Publishing 2000
Cross-media publishing and e-books were key themes
by Robin Peek
The Seybold Seminars are run by Ziff-Davis Events, the same company that puts on the huge COMDEX computing show and that is also a major publisher of computer magazines such as PC Magazine. (Seybold, however, is considerably less circus-like than COMDEX.) During the opening day of exhibits, ZDNet.com, the company’s major technology Web site, was attacked with the barrage of data that also crippled Web giants Yahoo! and eBay.
Seybold regulars Adobe Systems and Macromedia did their usual rollouts
of products and new features. Through acquisition and creation, both have
recently established well-rounded product lines. Quark was there too, doling
out M&M candies to the audience and demonstrating that they were firmly
into the cross-media authoring game. Notably absent was Seybold staple
Apple Computer, Inc., once the computer of choice in the publishing industry.
Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies …
Seybold Seminars’ keynote addresses tend to be colorful, noisy, and stridently hip affairs, which is good if your musical taste runs toward the B-52s. Fortunately, the keynote by Thad McIlroy, president of Arcadia House, was worth the wait. Opening with the rhetorical question, “Is it really a great privilege to do the ‘Print is dead’ talk?” McIlroy then provided statistics to outline his view that “… there are two groups: the group that got (the online movement) and took advantage of it, and the group that didn’t. (Yet) the numbers are so strong around print publishing that the rumors that print publishing is dead may be wrong. Printing and publishing are going to be fine, thank you very much.” However, he also added, “Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be printers.”
McIlroy argued that it will not be the printing and publishing business
as usual because the Internet will continue to take readers, particularly
young readers, away from print publications. However, McIlroy doesn’t believe
that the online rampage will continue its sharp upward spike. “There’s
a limit as to how many dot-coms we can incorporate into our lives at any
given time,” he said. “I’m calling it dot-com fatigue.”
Last year when I covered Seybold (IT, May 1999), people were just beginning to talk about XML. This year, not only was it one of the featured topics of the conference, XML was being juxtaposed with cross-media publishing and the Open eBook (OEB) Standard. The underlying concept of cross-media publishing is that content can be separated from being designed in a media-centric manner (for example, print). The assumption with cross-media publishing is that there is a content database and the designer has tools to author the design to be intelligently presented in different media (say WebTV or kiosks) with little, or, ideally, no additional design authoring.
XML is viewed as the vehicle that hopefully will someday take us to this ideal state of cross-media, media-neutral authoring. However, it is clear that we aren’t there yet, as chaos rules in the development of this standard. When Dale Dougherty, president and CEO of the O’Reilly Network, led a popular session called, “Seven Minutes with a Web Standard,” he observed that, “A standard does not mean acceptance.”
Sally Khudairi of the Zot Group added that “it is difficult for even
XML pioneer companies to keep up with the volatile standards.” But Murray
Maloney, president of Muzmo Communication, Inc., offered convincing arguments
that the standards process is running the risk of deteriorating into a
Tower of Babel and that the industry is more apt to actually set the standard,
such as we have seen with Microsoft. The general view from the session
and from an audience poll was not to give up on HTML quite yet.
Electronic Books Grab Attention
Electronic books (e-books) captured everyone’s attention at Seybold. In fact, a brand-new E-Book Pavilion in the Exposition Hall showcased 13 companies dedicated to this emerging technology. As he led a media tour around the E-Book Pavilion, Gene Gable, vice president and general manager of Seybold Seminars and Publications, stated, “Seybold believes that e-books are here to stay.” Still, it seems clear that e-books are very much works in progress.
Ebrary.com made its debut at Seybold, although it is not going to be online until June 1. This company has developed copyright-protection technology it hopes will allow a “sell-by-the-information-slice” Web business model. Deployed as an Acrobat plug-in, researchers will be able to browse but not download, copy, or print information without first purchasing what they want to use. An embedded search engine will allow full-text searching and will include built-in citations. Ebrary.com plans to take a 20- to 40-percent cut of sales and will initially pursue the research market.
Ibooks.com previewed its new e-publishing service, which was scheduled to launch on February 28. This is a one-stop service that allows customers to evaluate, immediately purchase, and use online digital reference books. The company has developed a sophisticated computer program that will allow the search engine to display search hits and surrounding text, but scrambles the rest of the page. This technique allows a customer to glimpse a document so that he or she can determine if it is a desirable document to purchase, but at the same time ensures that he or she won’t be able to take the document without paying for it. Ibooks.com is going to target information technology professionals initially and currently has 1,500 titles under license from Macmillan, Wiley, and O’Reilly.
One question that remains far from answered is the format(s) that e-books will ultimately embrace. There are two serious contenders: the venerable Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) and the Open e-Book (OEB) format. Adobe’s PDF is, of course, a de facto standard and, depending on which vendor I spoke with, 80 to 90 percent of publishers can generate the PDF format. Moreover, Adobe representatives at Seybold announced that 500 million copies of the Acrobat reader program are now in use.
The OEB is written in XML and is rendered on the fly by the client’s
hardware. It is considered an “open” standard, but just barely, as Microsoft
is viewed as a heavy-handed player in its development. Version 1.0 of the
standard was released in September 1999 but is generally considered crude
compared to the more mature PDF. However, it is expected that this gap
will close as soon as the OEB standard develops.
Little, Big, Bigger
The long-awaited debut of the Glassbook Reader came at Seybold. The Glassbook Reader is software for downloading and reading PDF-based electronic titles on desktop or laptop computers (and eventually dedicated e-book readers). There are two versions of the software, both available at http://www.glassbook.com and http://barnesandnoble.com. Both the free Reader and the Glassbook Plus Edition ($39) have annotation, bookmarking, and display rotation capabilities. The Plus Edition contains the American Heritage Dictionary, full-text searching, and the ability to exchange titles with other Glassbook users. However, the built-in copyright protection facility only permits a single use of the title a time. So, if you loan your copy to another person, you are unable to use it until it is “returned” to you.
Glassbook also has a beta version of its Glassbook Content Server, which automates the e-book supply chain through reporting of activities fulfillment. This year the Glassbook Library Server is projected to be released in beta. This is a Web-based system for libraries to manage the acquisition, storage, and lending of e-books. The Glassbook Kiosk, a software system for running e-book kiosks, will be available in beta next year.
While at Seybold I had the opportunity to get my hands on the Rocket eBook and SoftBook Press e-book devices that I briefly discuss this month in my Focus on Publishing column. I also was able to see the long-awaited Everybook (but only in prototype) that is scheduled to come out this summer (http://www.everybook.net). With these devices the real issue is how large do you want your device to be? And, of course, how much are you willing to shell out for the experience?
Top of the line is the Everybook, which is also way out of line in price—a planned $1,600. The Everybook strives to replicate the book experience in almost every way possible. It is a two-screened affair that opens, closes, and is used like a book. The viewing area is 8.5 x 11 inches on each screen with a 16-million-color palette. Publishers must use the PDF format. What I found rather interesting is that Linux is used as the operating system for the device. (Linux made many appearances at Seybold; expect to see more deployment this year.) When out of its prototype stage, the Everybook will have touch screens.
The folks at Everybook seem to understand that this product is out of the financial reach of the average person. But, they promise that new technologies, as well as an expanded market, will drive the price down. The next step down in price and size is the SoftBook, which looks a bit larger and heavier than the typical 8.5 x 11-inch paper pad (http://www.softbook.com). At $599, it is still a luxury item. What I found interesting is that SoftBook resembles the Tablet PC promoted by Microsoft as the next great step in the future of computing. Toss on a Web browser, and this could be an interesting product.
The smallest and most affordable of the three is NuvoMedia, Inc.’s Rocket eBook (http://www.rocket-ebook.com) at 22 ounces and $199 (base price). It can operate 20 to 40 hours, depending on usage. It uses a touch screen and a stylus, reminding me of an overgrown Windows CE device. This is where I found myself thinking: Why would I want to carry both devices?
[Editor’s Note: Gemstar International Group has now acquired both NuvoMedia, Inc. and SoftBook Press, Inc. See the story on page 45.]
Two product demonstrations to the media particularly caught my eye. I have not yet had the opportunity to use these products personally, so consider this just a heads-up, not a product endorsement. SpotOn (http://www.spoton.com) has created an intriguing patent-pending browser enhancement that changes not only the way in which someone could use the Web, but also the manner in which one shares information on the Web. SpotOn’s functionality allows a Web user to publish, share, and even include commentaries about captured Web content. The AutoTour feature lets users select a list of links on a Web page, such as search engine results, then the links are cached, and they load into the player as a tour. The Next button allows the user to instantly skip from one site to the next without having to use the browser Back button.
These SpotOn tours can also be shared, which allows publishers to provide SpotOn-formatted content that a viewer can immediately use and view. The company has already established partnering arrangements with publishers to deliver content this way.
Graphic designers are either going to love or hate Random Eye Images (http://www.randomeye.com), which was launched last month. The software is both an interactive viewing guide and idea generator. Using artificial intelligence software, which the developers say is the first of its kind, entirely new photographic compositions can be generated every 3 seconds. The process loads these images onto layers that determine position, opacity, and size. A user can intervene at any time to change the sequence or to make certain requirements.
A fictional cover for Time magazine was used for the demonstration. The designer required that the font and location of the masthead remain constant, but various cover designs of a globe were generated. Designs that were potential candidates could be selected and stored in a gallery and could be ported into the major publishing packages. It is available for Macintosh, Windows, and Linux and retails for $249.
As usual, Seybold Seminars Boston did not disappoint. It is akin to
theater in that the traditional ways of publishing continually confront
new directions and opportunities. And, quite frankly, it is also one of
the best-run conferences I have attended.
Robin Peek is associate professor at the Graduate School of Library
and Information Science and a columnist for Information Today. Her
e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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