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Media Education

Open eBook Forum Courts Controversy Over Formats 184

Brad Rigby writes "TeleRead's David Rothman is calling for [1, 2] the replacement of the Open eBook Forum by "an honest trade association" and a related standards body to create an open standards ebook format at the consumer-level. This will benefit publishers, distributors and retailers, librarians, the open-source community, and most importantly book readers. Largely because of the proprietary format wars, ebooks have flopped commercially, with only an estimated ten million dollars in sales in 2003. In addition, OeBF is being held hostage by its Gold Sponsors, including Microsoft, Adobe, and Palm Digital, companies with proprietary, incompatible ebook format solutions. And to make matters worse, OeBF's president, Steve Potash, runs OverDrive, a company profiting from this "Tower of eBabel", which, according to David, is an obvious conflict of interest and the reason why OeBF is no longer living up to the promise of a standard consumer ebook format. Interesting detail: The OeBF is so focused on promoting its Gold Sponsors that it has yet to speak out against European VATs that will tax e-books but not p-books."
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Open eBook Forum Courts Controversy Over Formats

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  • by Psychic Burrito ( 611532 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:19PM (#7788149)
    It's called ASCII.
  • by Amsterdam Vallon ( 639622 ) * <amsterdamvallon2003@yahoo.com> on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:25PM (#7788201) Homepage
    I read a Stephen King interview where he said that people just aren't into books anymore. And it's basically true.

    DVDs and CDs and TVs and LCDs have replaced the printed word. Many househoulds don't even have ONE BOOK on display. Kids are going to start growing up without ever having read a book at home or had their parents read to them.

    It's truly a sad state of affairs here in America.
  • by akaina ( 472254 ) * on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:26PM (#7788216) Journal
    text as digital music. Here's what uncle Steve had to say:

    Because of their technological innocence, I would say. When we first went to talk to these record companies -- about eighteen months ago -- we said, "None of this technology that you're talking about's gonna work. We have Ph.D.s here who know the stuff cold, and we don't believe it's possible to protect digital content."
  • by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:26PM (#7788219) Journal
    Do you know why I didn't buy a handheld ebook reader? I will tell you. NONE of them would display PDF's. Not a one, at least I was unable to find one that would.
  • Re:so what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vaevictis666 ( 680137 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:40PM (#7788339)
    I don't know about that. If I had a decent device that was capable of viewing "standard" ebook formats, could hold a fair amount of text (say 6-7 novels the size of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books), was easy to read (and maybe backlit) I wouldn't mind picking one up for my bus rides to/from work. It would mean no need to muss marking my page, and a smaller package to stick in my pocket. Plus without paper production costs, I could see ebooks selling for $2 or so, compared to $10 or so for paperback these days.
  • Do it the WWW way (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Josh Coalson ( 538042 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:50PM (#7788442) Homepage
    I was thinking about this the other day. Maybe what it would take to crack this whole thing open is to create a usefu l reader based on open standards, with no attention to copy prevention, like so:

    • a group of like minds forms a non-profit with open books (in the accounting sense)
    • design a useful piece of reader hardware, in near paperback size, that folds closed with a hard shell, and a flash slot and/or wired/wireless connectivity
    • write some reader software based around some open format like html or something else; software and firmware would be open-source and hackable
    • line up content from free sources (project gutenberg, etc)
    • sell it near cost to early adopters, maybe with some program for dropping the cost as people pre-order or somethin g

    The hardware wouldn't try to be a convergence device; it doesn't have to cram down to the form factor of a phone, it doesn't have to be a big ol' web pad. (It could be an organizer with a little extra software.) It could do copy prevention if implemented by Adobe and accepted by users.

    It would give an incentive for many people to publish to it (the people who are writing to be read, and not just to make money). Everyone dumping their scree on the web would have a more readable outlet.

    I think it's possible that demand for such a thing would be enough initially to cross the first production hurdle, then grow the same way the WWW did.

  • Re:so what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mahdi13 ( 660205 ) <icarus.lnx@gmail.com> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:02PM (#7788520) Journal
    Does anyone actually think that the lack of a single format is scaring consumers away from ebooks, and solely because of this they've been a flop? I'd wager to guess that ebook sales are going to be pretty dismal for quite a ways into the future.
    Yes, but not for the right reasons. If eBook readers were shoved down our throats with advertisments like the iPod w/iTunes is, they would sell millions!
    I have no problems reading a book on my PalmOS, but then the format problem comes in and causes problems. There have been more then a few eBooks I would of purchased if they were available in a format I could use. I would love to see a format standard with eBooks and only have one download option (instead of 6 options where I have to pay for each option)...if this were the case I would easily be able to get my wife buying eBooks for $2-$7 instead of paperbacks at $7-$9 and hardcover from $15...not to mention you can fit about 700 eBooks on a CD and paper books take a lot of physical space
  • by johnalex ( 147270 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:25PM (#7788692) Homepage
    I thought the same thing, until I took a class in seminary with the textbook on CD (in .pdf format).

    Since I don't have a notebook, I tried going to class a few times without the textbook. I found very quickly that those students without my aversion to paper could easily win arguments related to the text because they had printed the relevant chapters and brought them with them to class.

    I started printing the chapters out of sheer survival. Fortunately, I was able to print out the book at 2 pages/sheet (thank you Mac OS X!). The moral? Until I can afford a notebook, I prefer (augh!) paper books.
  • by macemoneta ( 154740 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:38PM (#7788803) Homepage
    HTML takes care of that issue, with the img tag. There are already cross-platform e-book readers that take HTML (including embedded graphics and tables) and convert them to a compressed form for display on the target device (iSilo [isilo.com] is my personal favorite). And yes, the conversion software is available for Linux as well.

    Any document that can be displayed as a web page (pretty much any document that exists) can be read as an e-book.

    The real problem is that there aren't any DRM-like controls on the documents. That's a good thing, but obviously it's going to take about a decade before book publishers finally agree to that.

  • Re:so what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:45PM (#7788867) Journal
    Does anyone actually think that the lack of a single format is scaring consumers away from ebooks, and solely because of this they've been a flop?

    Well, I do, sort of. I have a Zaurus, and before that I had a Palm.

    I liked to read ebooks on the Palm, and I liked it even better on the Zaurus. I read some classics, some popular science books made freely available by Dr. William Calvin, and some free Baen science fiction novels.

    As it happens, I'd previously bought some of Dr. Calvin's books in soft and hard cover; reading his ebooks (actually, Plucked HTML) encouraged me to buy more. At least one of the Baen titles prompted me to buy its sequel in soft-cover -- and without having read the ebook, I'd never have heard of the author, and probably wouldn't have bought his book.

    I went to fictionwise.com to get some books, but most of them were either in proprietary formats -- which the Zaurus can't read with any open source reader --, or in Palm .doc format -- which is technically lacking compared to, say, the Plucker format.

    I signed up with fictionwise.com, and downloaded some of their freebies. Their version of .doc didn't play well with my reader on the Zaurus, so I emailed fictionwise, and explained I'd be happy to pay them for books, if I could read those books in Plucker format. I realized they'd only be willing to do this for books in unencrypted formats, but I figured that they could at least convert books in (unprotected) Palm .doc format.

    Fictionwise, to their credit, did take they time to reply to me, but they reply was that they didn't have any interest in the Plucker format.

    I haven't been back to fictionwise.com since.

    I'm not a pirate. While I have about 10000 mp3s, all were legitimately obtained, most through the now sadly stunted emusic.com.

    As someone who writes code, some of it GPL'd, I'm sensitive to copyright, and I don't want to violate anyone's copyright anymore than I want my copyright violated. As someone who writes code, some of it for profit, I know that artists and authors deserve compensation for their work, and I want to see them get that compensation, if only for the very selfish reason that I want them concentrating on creating their next work (so I can enjoy it) rather than concentrating on how to cadge some more Ramen noodles before malnutrition sets in.

    Even if I didn't feel morally opposed to copyright "piracy", I really don't have the patience to browse KaZaa or whatever to find inferior rips and munged transcriptions of creative works. I have a few bucks in my pocket, and I'm not adverse to spending a few bucks on a good book or an good CD.

    But that book or CD needs to be convenient to ne to. Publishers need to understand that DRM'd music files are worth less than nothing to me, because my portable MP3 player won't play them. DRM'd books are worth less than nothing to me, because my portable computer won't display them.

    Were the music or the books in a accessible format, I'd put my money were my mouth is. I was happy to sign up with emusic (until they drastically limited downloads in November); I wanted to buy books from fictionwise.

    But don't treat me like a dummy: I don't want it in a format I can't use, or must ask permission every time I use, or can't transfer from one machine or another, or (as with the PDF version of the ANSI C++ Standard) I can't copy at least small portions of to quote.

    Do that, and I'll fall back on MP3s, and ASCII text, and in the case of the C++ Standard, the Draft Working Paper. Do that, and you've lost me as a customer. And once you've lost me as a customer, don't come weeping to me that it's piracy that destroyed your business model. Publishers have destroyed their business models all by themselves, by being more concerned about thwarting shop-lifters than pleasing paying customers.
  • One word: Baen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:48PM (#7788895)
    Baen Books (www.baen.com) has been giving away e-books of early titles in popular author's series for some time. They've even been putting them on CDs in major new books. The result has been increased sales of the dead tree versions of those same books, plus increased interest in the current and new versions.

    No DRM, no passwords, no encryption. You just can't turn around and sell it.

    That basically says one thing to me: people really don't want the e-book version of something they read for pleasure. They prefer the dead tree version. When the rest of the publishers wake up and discover that the e-book is a marketing tool rather than a profit center, all this idiocy about multiple versions and DRM will vanish.

    John Roth
  • by blkwolf ( 18520 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @05:23PM (#7789273) Homepage
    The real problem is that there aren't any DRM-like controls on the documents. That's a good thing, but obviously it's going to take about a decade before book publishers finally agree to that.
    Oh I dont know about that O'Reilly CD bookshelves [oreilly.com]
  • Re:so what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cyberchondriac ( 456626 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @06:00PM (#7789666) Journal
    If I had a decent device that was capable of viewing "standard" ebook formats, could hold a fair amount of text (say 6-7 novels the size of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books), was easy to read (and maybe backlit) I wouldn't mind picking one up for my bus rides to/from work.

    I agree, I started looking into e-books recently, looking for a device that was large enough to support "normal" sized text, the odd graphic or diagram here and there, something light, and backlit, that I would be just as comfortable reading in bed as I would a paper book. The closest thing seems to be a tablet PC, way too expensive for what I need. I hadn't even gotten into worrying about format yet, because most ebooks I've run across so far are either pdf or html, so I hadn't really worried about it.

    I figure if someone would make a reader that was about 9"-10" x 6"-7" ,weighed about half a pound, could parse both HTML and pdf (although I'm not fond of pdf), and had an adjustable backlight, we'd be in business. It might even be cool to have a device that could display two pages simultaneously, so long as you didn't have to squint to read it.

    Even cooler, once those ultra thin organic LCD displays become a production reality, maybe one or two of those mounted on a reader would be ideal, giving you the ability to flip a page or two like a real book. I often find myself referencing text on an adjacent or semi-adjacent page, something I find easier to do when flipping through paper rather than scrolling.

  • Gutenberg and Baen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Politas ( 1535 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @07:14PM (#7790334) Homepage Journal
    That's why all my e-books are from Gutenberg or Baen. No DRM. Baen are great, they realise that releasing e-books without any DRM hassles actually increases sales. When you get a book from them, you can get it in just about any format you want, inluding RTF and HTML, from which you should be able to convert to any format they don't provide. I've bought some e-books from them, and plan to buy more.

    I love reading novels on my Palm. The backlit screen means I can read in the dark; if I fall asleep while reading it just turns off and remembers my place; I can even read in the sauna if I put my Palm in a plastic ziplock bag. It carries a whole slew of books in less space than a single paperback, so when I finish the book I'm reading, I just have to go back to the list and pick a new one.

    I never thought that e-books would be any good until I tried it. Now I'm a convert. If only I could walk into my local bookstore and ask to get a book beamed into my PDA.
  • by bentrafford ( 734921 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @11:40PM (#7792022)
    ...the pointed quote from the Teleread blog: "The Forum under earlier leadership came up with valuable production-level standards." OEBPS isn't broken. And it isn't bad. And, yes, as one of the authors of it, I'm quite biased. But it's worth noting that the organization produced good work, before it got made into a slave. A slave to the marketing needs of the organizations that nearly killed it in the first place (Adobe and Overdrive Systems). I suspect that nothing so drastic as dismantling the OEBF is necessary; just boot out the current leadership. Simple as that. Oh, and this may come as a surprise to Slashdot readers (as it did to me, at the time), but the folks who represented Microsoft argued -vociferously- for open standards, standards compliance, and inclusion of the little guy. At least, they did so back in '98 and '99.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.