Friday, July 14, 2006

Of e-books and digital paper (11)

New players on the block

By 2005 a series of companies, different from the past ones and mostly new to the publishing trade, take an interest in electronic books for various reasons. Accessibility is one argument, being found is another, cultural heritage and publishing on demand.

Up to 2004 electronic books have been produced and distributed by publishing companies, production companies, distribution companies, ISPs, including telecomcompanies, and bookshops. But in this year new companies started to get involved in electrobnic books for different reasons.Amazon, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

Amazon, the distribution company of amongst others books, started with the Search Inside the Book feature. Buyers of books could have a look inside the book before ordering it. Besides this feature Amazon is planning Amazon Pages, a program that will let people purchase online access from a few pages of a book to an entire work. The e-commerce company also announced a program called Amazon Upgrade that will let customers pay extra to be able to access books electronically that they have had shipped to them in printed form. For this feature and programs, Amazon will digitize books in the public domain or books whose copyright holders have granted permission will be included in the new digital book programs.

Google came from the perspecytive of searching and announced a controversial book digitisation program. The company sticked to the principle that books could be digitised withourt permission of the author as the digitisation was intended for searching. There was a loud outcry of publishers; Nigel Newton, CEO of Bloomsbury, declared earlier this year that Google Print would lead to the “Napsterization” of the book industry. Eventually Google gave way and promised not to digitise books, when an author or publisher objected.

Yahoo is working with the Internet Archive, the University of California and others on a project to digitize books in archives around the world and make them searchable through any Web search engine and downloadable for free. The project, run by the newly formed Open Content Alliance (OCA), was designed to skirt copyright concerns that have plagued Google's Print Library Project since it was begun last year. The Internet Archive, a nonprofit formed to offer access to historical collections that exist in digital format, will host the digitized material. Microsoft is also part of the alliance. Microsoft has set up a tool for publishers wishing to make in-copyright material available. The Windows Live Books Publisher Program enables publishers to submit in-copyright material to Windows Live Book Search in both digital and physical-print forms.

The publishers are also getting into the game, be it rather late and lacklustre. Premium online eBook libraries have already been made searchable and viewable on a subscription basis by vendors such as Knovel, O'Reilly and Pearson's Safari Bookshelf and Books 24x7, including the ability to purchase and view chapters.

This wave in digitisation of millions of books costs millions. There is no co-operation between for example Google and the first player Project Gutenberg. Besides, , according to John Blossom, “the big issue being side-stepped is the ability to buy books as downloadable rights-enabled content objects. It's great that we'll be able to search books online, but with the rise of desktop search engines it's not really necessary or desirable to do so in many instances. One of the most desirable aspects of book ownership is the ability to have a personal copy to manipulate in private and without any network tether. While the book industry will have its hands full just adapting to online access in general, the real prize in book publishing will be enabling electronic book content to retain more of the aspects of book ownership most prized by book purchasers.”

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Blog Posting Number: 442

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