Sunday, July 09, 2006

Of e-books and digital paper (6)

Finding ways of distribution

In the 1970s the stress in the development of e-Books was on production and study. But in the 1980s distribution came in sight. Online had become a channel for business information, but also online services for consumers such as CompuServe and The Source started to take off. Besides online, offline made its debut with the Laserdisc, which was originally intended as a carrier for movies, but also became a carrier of text and photographs.

The experimenting came from an unsuspected company: the US subsidiary Areté of the Dutch based company VNU. Areté was a general reference publisher, which started to produce the Academic American Encyclopedia (AAE). Originally this reference work was based on the Dutch language encyclopedia Great Spectrum Encyclopedia. VNU had hoped to repurpose 80 percent of the texts and illustration material; in practice only 20 percent was usable for an American edition.

But as the company has made use of phototypesetting, it was easy to use the magnetic tapes for other products. And the manager of Areté, Mr Green, started to experiment. He brought the text of the AAE online with the online service The Source. By the time of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1981 he brought a magnetic tape along, so that a Dutch subsidiary could shop for a Laserdisc version with Philips.

An appointment was made with the Laserdisc department of Philips with a certain Mr Hoekstra, engineer by training. The objective of the meeting was to have Philips produce a Laserdisc version of the AAE and sell the electronic product to buyers of the Laserdisc player. The response was deafening: how many units of a Laserdisc player do you want to buy! At that time Philips people were hardly marketing sensitive and had hardly heard of bundling. So the Laserdisc version of the AAE never came about, but eventually the AAE was published as one of the first CD-ROM editions. As VNU was unable to sell the AAE, despite a recommendation of the American Library Association, it sold the publishing company to Grolier in 1982. In 1985 Grolier published the first multimedia encyclopedia on CD-ROM with more than 33.000 articles
CD-ROM became from 1985 onwards a favourite carrier for electronic books. During the early 1990s encyclopedias like the Grolier and Encarta were bundled in with CD-ROM players.

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Blog Posting Number: 438

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