By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Design
When are e-books going to start acting like real books? There are more than 20 different e-book formats in the wild, and they're all completely incompatible. BooksOnBoard founder Bob LiVolsi wants to change that with the EPUB format.
There are more than 20 different e-book formats in the wild, and they're all completely incompatible, according to SmartPlanet's own Dana Blankenhorn.
So what's an avid reader to do?
Bob LiVolsi wants to change that. LiVolsi is the founder and chief executive of BooksOnBoard, the largest independent e-book bookseller. BooksOnBoard was the first retailer to offer to its readers books in the EPUB standard, a free and open file format designed so that consumers can read (and move) their books wherever they want.
You know, like a real book.
SmartPlanet spoke with LiVolsi about the evolution of the EPUB standard and why reading an e-book will soon be more rewarding than reading a dead-tree copy.
SmartPlanet: How did the EPUB standard come to be?
Bob LiVolsi: It's an interesting challenge in the e-book space. It's taken a long time to measure levels of adoption. In 2000 they talked about the year of the e-book, but in 2002 lots of publishing jobs were lost in publishing companies for e-books. So it's been a long ride.
The effort for a standard has been challenging. When the iTunes thing washed over the world, the tech guys all wanted to be the next iTunes. That was a step back: Amazon's Kindle is all proprietary; Sony's original reader was proprietary; and so forth. All the high-tech guys were forcing a solution that worked for them onto readers. To do that is insane, even though there's a natural evolution for them in that way.
In fall 2007, EPUB was signed off on, but it was six or seven years of hard work. The intention was to create a standard so users could read their books wherever they wanted to, just like a real book. With the EPUB standard, that was the underlying core vision.
SP: What about publishers? What's in it for them?
BL: If publishers could produce all of their books in a single format, you'd lower their cost. First, format conversion is expensive. Second, you can manage ISBNs better, since a lot of publishers have distinct ISBNs for different formats.
Everybody thought digital e-books should be less expensive than paper. [But] the economics of publishing are built around building print.
When you go to publishing an e-book, you need to convert to a new format, which can be tricky. You have costs, more testing, and several different formats [to publish]. It's all incremental cost. So when [publishers] look at the total picture, e-books fundamentally add cost, and you need to sell a lot of them to make it worthwhile. They're selling better now.
SP: So why do e-books cost less than traditional books?
BL: Amazon sells books below cost; a lot of those $9.95 books, particularly those in hardcover that aren't in paperback yet. Barnes & Noble and Sony are doing it, and BooksOnBoard has to do it, too, to offer competitive prices.
Don't get me wrong, though -- at the same time, Amazon's done a lot of good PR for e-books.
About 65 percent of everything we sell right now is Adobe format, and most of that is EPUB. Roughly half of everything sold is EPUB.
SP: What's in it for consumers?
BL: We take our customers where they find us. Most of our customers are middle-class folks that work hard to make a living every day. They are much more comfortable in the Adobe format, EPUB. Partly because Adobe has a history of standardization with PDF. It's a natural evolution, and I think that's why 65 percent of our customers are gravitating toward that -- a standard that will be on more and more devices, rather than less and less.
Say you have a Kindle. If you break it, and you have $500 worth of books already, you have to buy another Kindle or an iPod. A book is supposed to be a $6 decision, not a $300 decision. To know that a book can be read on multiple devices -- a laptop, an e-reader, a phone -- adds value. It's closer to the way that customers are used to reading books.
In fact, it's better than a standard book because it can be read in multiple places.
Our core customer makes less than $60,000 a year per household. That $300 decision is an expensive decision. The primary place they read is a laptop or desktop or netbook, not e-readers. The primary place readers read is in bed, even an e-book. Most customers who have netbooks bring them to bed because of the back-light.
One author told us she reads e-books in the bathtub and gets out when the battery runs dead on her notebook.
SP: EPUB-formatted books can be read in many places. What's the argument for a dedicated e-reader?
BL: I love e-Ink, but people are more and more reading on smartphones and computers. The major benefit of e-Ink is that you can read in broad daylight. But most people read in low light -- at home, in the office, on the subway, in their own car as a passenger. Particularly trade books, fiction, things of that nature.
The other question about the beach is: what happens when sand gets in your device? I'm not sure we've come up with a solution to that yet.
A lot of people adopt e-books because they're green, but if you're making a $5 decision about a book, but a $400 decision is entirely different.
I'm delighted with e-readers, but for quite some time yet, the primary place to read will be netbooks, notebooks and smartphones. With netbooks, it's a convergence thing -- you get a lot more value with it [than with an e-reader].
SP: Are e-books growing in adoption? If so, how much?
BL: We've grown nonstop since [we launched, in 2006]. We grow 12 to 15 percent a month, every month. This space has been fairly recession-proof. We do 24/7 support; that helps.
E-book awareness grew out of the fact that the Kindle sat on Amazon's homepage for two years now. Most people thought the e-book and Kindle were synonymous. Only now are people becoming aware that they can read their books on their netbooks. As awareness rises, we'll see a growth in adoption.
But if you can get a netbook for a couple hundred dollars, it's a hard argument for a dedicated device. And there's less room in the briefcase, of course.
We've focused our business around what the customer wants. We were the first to ship EPUB books, about 14 months ago. We were one of the first to offer DRM-free MP3 audiobook downloads. If the industry focuses on customers, growth will be there. There's an appetite for it.
DRM's a good thing if you're a huge author, but if you're a new author, DRM's only an impediment. But I don't know how you split that. Still, DRM won't matter if the customer can get easy access to the books.
SP: Can e-books ever replace the musty bookstore?
BL: You can't get all the way back to the old bookshop, but many of our readers use Twitter to interact with each other and us. Always be courteous, know that the customer's always right, and if they can't figure out the technology, it's not the customer's fault. That's just one element.
We're looking for more ways to personalize the experience. But if you know you can help somebody, that's pretty comforting.
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Aug 27, 2009
Yes, many books now have DRM protection, and I always stuck with them. If you guys have the same trouble like me, and can not deadl with the DRM, you'd better learn more DRM knowleade of DRM summary on the guide here http://www.epubor.com/ebook-drm-protections.html. Then, you just can figure out what you can do and need to do with your ebooks.
I just got an Aluratek Libre eBook reader, which can read most eBook formats including unprotected MOBI, ePUB, PDF and RTF - but can't read any copy-protected files! So I can read public domain books, Baen SF/fantasy which isn't copy-protected (bless them), and the "multiformat" titles from Fictionwise - which are mainly soft-core porn. No, I'm not an anti-proprietary OSS type - though after having three Amazon Kindles die on me in a bit over a year(!), and Amazon refusing to replace their third failed reader even though I'd only had it for about three months(!!!), I am starting to understand their philosophy. I lost a fair number of eBooks when I decided I wasn't going to reward Amazon for building an overpriced and unreliable eBook reader that they weren't willing to stand behind - and I don't want to repurchase a bunch of eBooks only to get locked into yet another DRM scheme because Big Media is too greedy to see they're only hurting their authors and encouraging piracy with all this copy protection.
Back in 2005-06 I was very involved with Adobe regarding the acquisition of Flash player as I worked on the Premiere Pro CS2 beta. I asked a the highest level for a side favor...that Adobe Acrobat and PDF technology produce an e-book that would simply scroll across panoramic photos. I believe strongly that the e-book is ideally suited to deliver core content in the visual arts as well as printed words. Bob Kiger - Videography Lab.
I ordered 3 books & one DVD from Amazon last week--but they were all used books. When will the used book reader be recognized as an ebook customer? I love the idea of having a storage device filled with, say, all my cookbooks, or mysteries, or craft books...imagine going to class without dragging around books that are sold by the pound weight But most of all, I long for publishers to stop thinking of ebooks as digital versions of their hard copy books. Imagine a history text including sound/video of topics presented? Interactive maps? excerpts from say, Book TV? Links to websites. Dictionaries w/ pronounciation guides Imagine a chemistry text that includes YouTube-type videos of laboratory technique Imagine accounting texts with mini spreadsheets so that parameters can change & results studied Ditto for charts I could go, but you get the picture. Dr. J. Fred MacDonald, history professor emeritus from Northeastern IL. University, is experimenting with moving his canon of books to the web. Check it out at www.jfredmacdonald.com ebooks will not 'catch on' until the true potential of the media is realized. It took DW Griffith to recoginize that movies are not just filmed plays; who will be the ebook's DW Griffith.
@mwagner: My apologies for not having been clearer in the interview. EPUB is a generic open format that comes with optional DRM capability. Adobe has its own protected (read: DRM) version of EPUB under the Digital Editions name. EPUB is distinct from PDF, by the way, which happens to also be supported by a number of e-book readers. Here's a list of e-readers that work with Adobe's version of EPUB: http://www.adobe.com/products/digitaleditions/devices/ Amazon's Kindle does not support EPUB, you'll notice. Ccertain devices do read non-DRM EPUB, by the way, such as Apple's iPhone. Hope that helps!
I cannot tell form reading the article if EPUB and PDF are the same thing or not. it is certainly auggested that Adobe used te EPUB standard (with DRM) but it is not entirely clear if EPUB-formatted books which are non-DRM will work with eight ADOBE PDF readers or with the Adobe Digital Editions software or what.
It is great to see a vendor pushing a consistent, DRM free standard. I have bought DRM locked eReader and Mobipocket books and it is a pain in the neck. I buy almost all my reading books now from Baen Books. They are very enlightened in attitude towards DRM and all their books are DRM free. In fact they have a very interesting article somewhere on their website that talks all about how they believe the DRM free books actually help them to sell more books. Most, if not all, of their books are also available in epub format. This works fantastically well for me with Stanza on my iPhone.