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Ebook Server Software - Amazon Mobipocket, Adobe Content Server and Microsoft

Authors new to self publishing sometimes think that publishing e-books requires spending thousands of dollars on software for generating files, adding DRM (Digital Rights Management) and serving the files to customers. You can go that route if you want to, or use one of the work arounds, like creating PDF's with password protection and sending the password when you receive payment. To me, that would be like selling an audio book, where the sale is final when you read it to the customer over the phone - at their convenience.

The whole market for e-book server products and DRM turned out to be much smaller than the major players expected. Adobe once looked poised to take over the market, with their strong Acrobat product line (they invented the PDF after all), their acquisition of Glassbook, and their Content Server product line. Suddenly, last November, Adobe announced they were discontinuing sales of Adobe Content Server. Current customers can continue using it, and their Adobe's Digital Rights Management Activator Service will remain active through December 31, 2006. The general assumption is that they are abandoning the e-book server product because there aren't enough customers to justify supporting it.

Microsoft has their own e-book sever and digital rights management system for the Microsoft Reader e-book format, the Microsoft Digital Assets Server or DAS. Heavily promoted just a few years ago, the digital assets server was positioned as a back office product for big publishers or aggregators. The list of Digital Rights Solutions Providers on Microsoft's website consists of five vendors world wide, two in the U.S., three in Europe. One of the U.S. providers is Lightning Source, the company that serves my e-books. In fact, according to an email I received from Amazon a few months ago, Lightning Source was serving all of the e-books sold on Amazon at that time.

Around the same time I got that e-mail, Amazon acquired Mobipocket, a French company that specialized in e-books for mobile devices, with both reader and server software. The funny thing is that Google can't turn up a single mention of the Mobipocket acquisition on the Amazon website, and I went through all the press releases this year without finding a mention. If it wasn't for the Amazon branding that appeared on the Mobipocket website, I'd think I imagined the whole thing. The acquisition took place around the same time as Amazon purchased Booksurge.

There are a number of third party vendors of e-book servers and DRM software, but it's an unfortunate reality that when it comes to the publishing industry, dealing with the small
players is risky. The economics of publishing are sufficiently tough when you can access the whole market. If you start restricting your customer base by supplying products that require special downloads (emotional commitment) on the part of the customer, it's going to be a tough row to hoe. The easiest way for publishers in the U.S. to make their e-books available to a wide audience is to get them on Amazon, which for the moment means dealing with either Amazon or Lightning Source. Barne&Noble.com actually abandoned the e-book market a couple years ago, after spending a pretty good sum on MightyWords, a leading e-book publisher at the turn of the century:-)

2 comments:

superman said...

What are the benefits of purchasing your own digital or laser printer and self-printing vs commercial printers? Is it feasible? What are the pros and cons?

Morris Rosenthal said...

Many, many pros and cons having to do with production, but the real important issue is distribution. The whole print on demand model I'm talking about would just be an expensive way to print small numbers of books if not for the distribution tie-in. Books printed by Lightning Source are available for ordering through over 90% of bookstores in the US, not to mention Amazon and the other online retailers. What's more, you can assign a short discount, which means you can earn over 50% of the cover price, hands off. Even if you do a good job printing books in your basement, the main challenge is making them available to customers.