Adobe Digital Editions, Epublishing And Amazon

Just some jumbled thoughts about epublishing today in contrast with my usual meticulous research:-) I finally enabled Flash and downloaded Adobe Digital Editions, which looks pretty slick. But I'm not in it for the aesthetics. Digital Editions is the latest attempt to establish a true industry standard platform for ebooks that will maintain currency going forward.

The PR stresses the term "portable documents" over "ebooks", which is fair enough since the ebooks label was always a little confusing when used to refer to documents that wouldn't make it as a feature magazine article, much less a book. I think it's also a reaction to the fading star of ebooks in the marketplace - as in, "Ebooks, whatever happened to them?"

But as a publisher who's been through the DRM wars, what I find even more interesting is the impression that Adobe and their many publishing partners seem to be shying away from the term "DRM" in favor of "digital media protection" or something similar. But whatever you call it, Digital Editions is supposed to support the DRM of PDF's protected by ACS (Adobe Content Server). Clear as alphabet soup?

The biggest question mark, to me, is whether Amazon will sell them. I just did a quick check on the Amazon site and I didn't see any current ebooks from the publishers Adobe has already signed for Digital Editions. If all that Digital Editions accomplishes is to give publishers and readers a new, thin client, universal document reader, I doubt it will have much impact outside of the corporate world. Amazon is too big a piece of the consumer ebook puzzle to be ignored, and last time I checked, looked, they owned their own ebook software company, Mobipocket.

But I haven't been making a big effort to keep up with epublishing since Amazon dumped my Ingram/LSI ebooks, so maybe there's a deal brewing that I just haven't heard about. I never even figured out for sure why Amazon dumped the majority fo their ebook catalog, whether it was to reduce customer support for DRM issues, to prepare the ground for Mobipocket, or even to slow down ebook adoption until they could get a branded hardware reader into production.

As a publisher, I'm pretty indifferent to a having a new, universal and easy to use platform for publishing digital books. What I'm interested in is a turn-key platform that can sell ebooks for me, and I doubt that Adobe and a consortium of NY trades have the ambition or ability to be my ebook retailing platform. Amazon does.


Kathleen J. Meyer said...

Much of the talk at the O'Reilly Tools of Change Conference last month centered on the new digital/e-book formats and platforms. You might want to check out the conference site for info on the keynotes and other presentations. Also, at the conference Ingram announced a partnership with Microsoft where they will scan and manage digital files for MS Live Search Book service. You might want to check out the archived conference info:
O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2007

Morris Rosenthal said...


I may make it to an O'Reilly conference again one day. It seems to me that they've mainly been on the West Coast lately, but the next "Tools of Change" might be in NYC. I did get to an O'Reilly breakfast maybe 10 years ago in Boston.

That said, I don't think the announcements and the plans mean a whole lot. Speaking of conferences, when I write about ebooks, I usually bring up my attendance at ebook 2000 in Washington DC in 2000, or was it 2001. There were a lot of smart people and good products there, but there was no agreement on what an ebook was, whether DRM was good or evil, or why anybody should care.

I think I'm a fairly rare bird for a self publisher in that I actually made some money with ebook versions of my print books, about $500 a month before Amazon dropped Lightning Source ebooks. But I still see ebook adoption as a generational thing. When schools replace textbooks with ebook readers to save money (and backbreaking backpacks), ebooks will come into general use. Until that happens, ebooks are mainly a tempest in a teapot, showing great growth numbers because they started from zero.

If publishing were boxing, ebooks would be called the great electronic hope:-)