Information Today
Volume 17, Issue 10 • November 2000
IT Report from the Field •
Electronic Book 2000: Protecting Content
This conference highlighted digital rights management and protection
by Judy Luther

The leading topic of Electronic Book 2000, the third annual e-book conference and show, was digital rights management (DRM) and protection. Co-sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), this year’s conference was subtitled “Changing the Fundamentals of Reading.”

Over 600 attendees and 35 exhibitors gathered September 25–27 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, to explore the dynamics of this emerging industry. Victor McCrary, who conceived and organized the first conference at NIST 3 years ago, was joined by Pat Harris, executive director of NISO, who handled the exhibits.

This is the first year the program was held outside of NIST’s headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It was structured with concurrent sessions on book-application systems, international developments, authors’ forums, standards and interoperability, business models, market-serving strategies, libraries and education applications, digital rights management, and publishing strategies. It also featured many vendor presentations, but offered few speeches from publishers. The audience included nearly 100 librarians mostly from public and academic libraries. The major commercial, scholarly, and trade publishers as well as many government agencies were also represented.

General Session
In his introductory remarks, McCrary defined the e-book as both “electronic content” and a “portable reading system,” and noted that Forrester Research predicts e-book sales will rise to $426 million by 2004. This figure comprises 13 percent of online book sales. McCrary believes that businesses will adopt e-book technology for internal applications before the consumer market adopts them for recreational reading. He also predicted that the market will embrace a super, personal digital assistant (PDA) that’s based on functionality, mobility, and price.

The keynote address was given by Steve Canepa, vice president of marketing for IBM Global Media and Entertainment, who announced that IBM was ready to get actively involved in the e-book industry. With PDAs driving the demand for digital content, he observed that print is another way to use content, but may not be the primary way. Canepa stated that technologists and publishers both have roles and should stick with their core competencies, noting that interoperability and agility are essential in this environment.

Ken Brooks, Barnes & Noble’s vice president of digital content, asked, “Where’s the money?” He cited Andersen Consulting’s projections (available at the Association of American Publishers [AAP] Web site at, which expect the industry to reach $2.3 billion by 2005.

Brooks noted that sales are dependent on three components: the platform and operating system, the format of the content, and the distribution channel. Microsoft Reader has the largest installed platform base, as compared to Peanut Press’ Peanut Reader or the estimated half-million Rocket eBooks and SoftBook Readers that have been sold. Although Adobe’s PDF is the leading format with 100,000 titles, the Open eBook (OeB) standard is coming on strong; the two will probably converge, despite the current struggle for popularity. It’s unclear if there’s a direct, leading channel for distribution among retailers, wholesalers, publishers, or authors.

Dick Brass, Microsoft’s vice president of technology development, commented on the need to prevent piracy, which he believes is a threat to human progress and prosperity, not just to corporate profits. Brass suggested four actions: 1) Establish an honest market before the pirates secure it; 2) protect the content, which is more vulnerable to accidental than deliberate pirates; 3) have strong enforcement of copyright laws; and 4) educate the public about these issues.

Digital Rights Management
Of the many talks given on DRM, two of them outlined the industry and organized players into categories based on the speaker’s perspective. This helped attendees get to know the speakers and their core strengths.

Kirstie Chadwick, CEO and president of Digital Owl (, distinguished DRM vendors that offer a secure platform from content distributors that wholesale it, and from content retailers that sell it to the user. Then there are the content marketers such as Digital Owl that package, syndicate, and deliver content that’s promoted via viral marketing—a system in which enthusiastic users sell the product to other customers for the publisher. Focused on the users’ need for accessible content that’s packaged in personalized bundles and downloaded to the desktop or PDA, Digital Owl offers secure, syndicated content that’s presented in context, with seamless delivery and recommendations from its users.

Carol Risher, Savantech’s senior vice president of business development (, explained digital content, digital rights, digital management, and digital distribution. Her company’s diagram of a digital commerce framework (dCF) offers a standards-compliant, highly flexible infrastructure that encompasses all aspects of the process, including DRM, security, metadata, merchant services, content-management services, customer-relationship management, and work-flow management.

Martin Eberhard, formerly of NuvoMedia (which was recently sold to Gemstar), noted that encryption doesn’t provide great security and that it doesn’t require a hacker to break it. His point was that piracy hurts sales and that it’s possible, but not easy, to prevent it.

E-Book Collection
Troy Williams, founder and CEO of Questia Media (, described his company’s initiative (which will launch in January 2001) as the largest digitization project in the world, with 50,000 books in the social sciences and humanities. Questia’s goal is to help students write better papers, faster, by providing them with software support that cites references of material used in writing a formatted paper. The service will be sold to college students for a projected price similar to that of a cable-TV subscription, and publishers will be paid a percentage of the proceeds based on the use of their content. There are no plans to market to libraries at this time.

Christopher Warnock, president and CEO of ebrary (, which is scheduled to launch this fall), stated that his company’s goal is to help people collaborate online to make information more accessible. Users will be able to search a database of content and pay for what they use—i.e., pay for convenience rather than for rights. Publishers will gain exposure that’s expected to increase sales of their books.

Although many of the speakers were from companies announcing products or services, not all of them were in the exhibit hall. For instance, netLibrary was there, but Questia and ebrary were missing. Elsevier Science and R.R. Bowker were the only publishers exhibiting along with the technology firms.

The exhibit that caused the most excitement was that of Korea ebook, Inc.(, which demonstrated a lightweight (1-pound), hand-held device that will be launched in the Korean market this year and in the U.S. market in 2001. (Its Web site is still in the process of being translated into English.)

Another innovation was the software demonstrated by Walker Reading Technologies ( Developed by two brothers who are both medical doctors, the system applies cognitive science to improve human reading by distributing the words down the page as if they were being read. This software increases reading comprehension while decreasing eyestrain.

Standards and Strategies
Sandy Paul, executive director of the Books Industry Study Group (BISG;, spoke about the two new standards under development for e-book metadata. Her company’s Web site contains references for other initiatives, such as ONIX (ONline Information eXchange) and the OeB Forum.

Because there are currently two competing standards for book formats, publishers are hesitant to incur the cost of producing their books in both formats. Adobe has an installed base of 110 million copies of its Acrobat software, and some publishers are already using its PDF Merchant system. The PDF page looks like the printed page, which is a plus to some publishers. However, it doesn’t readily adapt to screens that are smaller than the monitor, and only allows the reader to see a portion of a page at a time.

The nonproprietary OeB format was developed by the 61 principal members of the OeB Forum (OeBF;, which include Microsoft, McGraw-Hill, Random House, Palm, IBM, and Nokia. An OeB-formatted book can be designed so that the text and images reflow to fit any screen, from a desktop system’s 20-inch monitor to a smartphone’s five-line display. It’s been adopted by the Rocket eBook and the SoftBook Reader, but less than 50,000 of these devices have been sold.

The final day included a general-information meeting of the OeBF, whose core message is that e-books are for everyone.  Incorporated in February 2000, the forum has 113 member organizations with broad representation internationally among publishers, the visually handicapped, and reading-device manufacturers. Other pertinent standards efforts include EBX, MPEG-21, DOI Foundation, W3C, and EDiTEUR, which is managing ONIX for e-book metadata.

Allison Pendergast, vice president and director of technology at Pearson Education’s Addison Wesley Higher Education Group, deals primarily in textbooks for upper-level college courses. Although e-textbooks cost her company nearly three times as much to develop as print (due to technology and rights acquisition of media), it plans to introduce fully Web-developed textbooks for the 2002–2003 school year with an emphasis on interactivity of content.

Michael Cader, president of Cader Books (, and editor in chief and e-book columnist at Publisher’s Lunch, offered four basic principles for authors in an e-publishing world: 1) Think in terms of content—which needs a reason to be either in print or electronic format—not in terms of titles; 2) serve the needs of the reader rather than the author’s voice; 3) get to know your customer, since interaction between publishers and readers is enhanced in an electronic world; and 4) e-publishing opens the door to finding money in new places and new ways.

NIST and the Commerce Dept.
Ray Kammer, director of NIST, welcomed attendees this year, noting that although standards and interoperability remain relevant issues, the focus should shift to digital rights management. All content, according to Kammer, should pass the “4A” test: accessible, authentic, available, and auditable.

Susan Zevin, director of NIST’s Information Technology Lab (ITL;, pointed out that NIST encourages the voluntary adoption of standards and that the ITL has been working on interactive TV, digital cinema, speech recognition, pervasive computing, etc.

Alan Balutis, director of the Advanced Technology Program (ATP; at the Department of Commerce, noted that his agency’s mission is to foster the development of technology that has broad national benefit through partnerships with the private sector. Balutis pointed out that more than 50 percent of U.S. economic growth was the result of advances in technology.

To date, ATP has provided $1.5 billion in funds, with more than 50 percent of the projects led by small business. Proposals need to have scientific, technological, and economic benefits. ATP’s next conference will be November 13–14 in Baltimore.

John Roberts, an electronic engineer at NIST’s ITL, described a rotating-wheel Braille display that offers low-cost accessibility to electronic books. His organization had this device on display and hoped to see it commercialized.

When this conference began in 1998 it discussed the need for standards for the various hand-held devices that were being introduced, and it was successful in getting all the players in the same room. Three years later the focus has shifted to examining software designed to support controlled distribution of content and to new business models.

Although the program covered authors, e-book publishers, librarians, and industry experts, it was a challenge to satisfy the diverse crowd. There were many new attendees, both librarians and publishers, who came to learn how they fit into this emerging industry. There are still more questions than answers at this stage, so it’s best to monitor developments as major issues of standards and distribution are addressed.

Judy Luther is principal of Informed Strategies and an independent consultant in the area of market development. Her e-mail address is

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