New blog: Books 2.0

As noted earlier, I will be leaving Adobe soon. I will continue to write about digital publishing on a new personal blog, “Bill McCoy: Books 2.0″. From my introductory post there:

…my work at Adobe these last three years has been centered around a relatively prosaic objective: establishing open standards that enable multi-channel/cross-device distribution of eBooks. For all intents and purposes, this work is done: epub is now firmly established as the industry standard for reflow-centric eBooks. That took a considerable effort, on the part of many people, and I’m really proud that we did it. But… that was the easy part: essentially migration of print to digital. epub does take portable documents to the next level – breaking past beyond PDF’s paper-replica model. But that’s only the beginning of the fundamental reinvention of the book that digital content and the Web will enable. In other words: now it’s really going to get interesting. I expect my future work, and this blog, to focus on this transformation.

To all of you who have checked in with me these last few days – thanks! Restructuring is always tough, and my thoughts are with other affected friends and colleagues, but on balance this is a positive transition for me personally. And that Adobe is expanding its investment in digital publishing should be the high-order bit for customers and business partners. The incredible team I’ve worked with now has significant additional resources and enhanced business focus.
Signing out here.

Leaving Adobe

I will be leaving Adobe in the near future to pursue other opportunities “to be determined”. It’s been a heck of a ride these last several years! I’m particularly proud that epub is now firmly established as the open standard eBook format, with a boost from Adobe’s leadership in IDPF as well as from the solution set that we’ve put in place including Adobe Reader Mobile SDK, Adobe Content Server, Adobe Digital Editions, and the authoring support in Adobe InDesign.
While my transition comes as Adobe is restructuring, it’s really more about Adobe creating a new, expanded organization focused on digital publishing media monetization. My team is the nucleus of this group, and the additional wood that Adobe is putting behind this arrow should be great news for our customers and business partners. We’ve got a lot of exciting stuff on our roadmap, and it’s been an exceptional honor to have worked with such an incredible group of people. But, it was a logical time for me to move on.
I will be taking a little bit of time off, but there is no doubt that I’ll continue to be involved in the future of digital books, especially where that future intersects with web standards and open source. I believe that Adobe will continue to play a critical role as an enabler of interoperable solutions, but I also believe that the community needs to stay vigilant to ensure that for-profit corporations don’t just talk the talk about being open, but also walk the walk. I’ve certainly tried my level best to do this from the inside, but look forward to the opportunity to push for open standards and interoperability from a completely neutral perspective. I can be reached at whmccoy “at” gmail.com.

Adobe and Barnes & Noble eBook Collaboration

Adobe and Barnes and Noble announced today a partnership to advance the open eBook platform standard. This was part of a broader announcement by B&N featuring their new nook device – which is very sweet – definitely the highest techno-lust quotient of any eReader device to date.
The adoption of EPUB, PDF & ACS4 by B&N is an extremely significant milestone. First, it puts to rest concerns that B&N would adopt EPUB as a base format but frustrate consumer expectations of interoperability and confuse the marketplace with a non-interoperable content protection solution based on their Fictionwise eReader acquisition. Instead, B&N is adopting the cross-platform Adobe solution that is already used by Sony, OverDrive, and nearly a hundred others. And, by adding support for password-based content protection for EPUB, Adobe is addressing the need to deliver a more lenient “social DRM” option as part of our solution. And from the perspective of the overall ecosystem, today’s announcement is huge: we have, within the last two months, seen two “legacy” proprietary eBook formats – BBeB and eReader – superseded by the open standard EPUB solution with Adobe’s cross-platform content protection. In essence, there is now a clear “DVD of eBooks” format standard, and everyone significant has adopted it (with now only one remaining exception).
This partnership is a double win-win: a win for both companies involved, as well as for the rest of the ecosystem and consumers. It’s clearly a good move for B&N and Adobe, it’s going to help accelerate consumer adoption of eBooks by cementing the standard eBook platform – EPUB and PDF with the option of ACS4 DRM – and giving consumers content portability across their choice of devices.
While Adobe and Barnes & Noble work at very different levels of the value chain, I feel we really have a shared vision, one that William Lynch, President of BN.com, emphasized at the nook launch: “Any Book (Magazine, or Newspaper), Any Time, Anywhere (On Any Device)”. Today, we all took a big step towards realizing this vision.

Adobe eBooks – Update on Accessibility Support

A few inquiries have come in about a press release earlier this week by the Reading Rights Coalition noting that the Los Angeles Public Library has suspended purchasing eBooks compatible with Adobe Digital Editions, because there is no accessibility support in our solution. This post is intended to clarify the situation and provide an update on our roadmap.
The basic concern of the Reading Rights Coalition is legitimate. Adobe Digital Editions is a PC application that replaced the eBook support that was present in older versions of Adobe Reader. While there are many new capabilities in Adobe Digital Editions, most importantly support for epub in addition to PDF, and overall its more consumer-focused user interface, Adobe Reader did support screen readers and a “read out loud” feature, neither of which is presently in Adobe Digital Editions. This is a regrettable situation. It stems from the fact that, for a number of reasons, we made the decision to build Adobe Digital Editions in a technology called Adobe Flex, targeting the Adobe Flash desktop runtime that became Adobe AIR. While the browser-based version of Flash Player has for quite some time included accessibility support, the desktop configuration has not, and neither the AIR team nor our Digital Editions team was able to incorporate accessibility support in our respective version 1 implementations.
We agree completely that eBook accessibility is critical. Adobe is helping to create the cross-platform standard for interoperable eBooks. Clearly, accessibility support is a fundamental requirement. One of the key motivations for supporting epub was that it was a more structure-based and thus more inherently accessible file format makes. So, the current situation is simply unacceptable.
So what are we doing about it?
First, the next major release of Adobe Digital Editions, expected within the coming year, is going to support accessiblity features. Earlier this week, Adobe previewed AIR 2, and we disclosed that screen reader support was going to be included. This will be a key enabler for us.
Additionally, Adobe has begun working with several vendors of accessibility-oriented software and devices to get them access to Adobe eBook rendering and DRM technology via our Adobe Reader Mobile SDK, so their solutions can consume Adobe eBooks. Our Reader Mobile SDK is not a revenue generator for Adobe; our standard terms are focused on proliferation (and with 17 announced licensees so far this year we are doing pretty well on that front). This is similar to the Open Screen Project for Flash licensing. But since many accessibility vendors are either nonproffits or have limited financial resources, we have gone even further in extending extraordinarily favorable terms to get them access to our portable document technology. I expect we will be able to make some specific announcements around this very shortly, but the bottom line is that there will soon be multiple means for visually-impaired end users to consume Adobe eBooks.
One still controversial issue is that some publishers are concerned lest non-visually-impaired consumers get access to “read out loud” functionality that would potentially undercut sales of audio books. Adobe plans in this regard are to support in our DRM system a permission setting that will enable publishers to disable “read out loud” functionality in software systems that are NOT focused on the visually impaired. But, we plan to default this permission setting to “enable” and recommend strongly that publishers not set it to “disable”. As well we plan to exempt accessibility-oriented software from being limited by this setting. We feel this approach will strike an appropriate balance between giving publishers the rights to determine how to distribute their copyrighted content, and ensuring that accessibility is provided.
Again, the current situation is unfortunate. As someone who has helped foster the adoption of epub, including the decision to support DAISY as a type of basic content within epub, it is a black eye for me personally that Adobe’s solution does not presently provide accessibility support. I am grateful that the Los Angeles Public Library has only “suspended” purchasing Adobe eBooks, and I look forward to working with our partners to, in short order, remedy the situation.

WSJ on eBook Format War

Geoffrey Fowler has a good piece today in the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog: Format War Clouds E-Book Horizon . The tone is perhaps overly ominous – while I agree that “the burgeoning marketplace for e-books is riddled with inconsistent and incompatible formats”, there are definitely signs that the clouds are starting to break up. But overall it’s a thoughtful take on the current situation and trends (full disclosure: I talked with Geoffrey and was quoted in the article).

Sony Going 100% EPUB

Sony announced today plans to convert its US eBook Store to the EPUB format, using Adobe Content Server protection technology. NY Times articleTeleRead coverage..
This important announcement marks significant progress towards the goal that Brad Stone summarized well in his article: to “give e-book buyers more flexibility by rallying around a single technology standard for the books”.

Seventeen eReaders Now Compatible With Open eBook Platform

Seventeen reading devices from nine different vendors are already compatible with Adobe’s eBook platform, supporting EPUB, PDF, Adobe Content Server protection technology and our Adobe Digital Editions eBook reading software for desktop computers. This is faster take-up than even this optimist had hoped for, given our launch less than six months ago of the enabling Adobe Reader Mobile 9 SDK that’s been integrated into all of these products. This rapid adoption highlights the growing demand for an open eBook platform, based on industry standards not proprietary formats: a platform that gives consumers content portability across multiple reading devices, smartphone and PC applications, and the ability to choose among multiple online retailers and libraries..

Skyrocketing Growth in Smartphone eBook Adoption

A recent report by mobile analytics concern Flurry (covering 60M users) indicates that in the US eBooks on smartphones now have “nearly three million active users”, with “steep growth, over 300% from April to July”. Of course the bulk of this growth coming from iPhone & iPod Touch: the Flurry report notes that, per Apptism, “eBooks represents the second-largest category in the App Store, with 14% share, only behind Games, which comes in at 19%”

EPUB generation library open sourced by Adobe

Adobe has just released, under BSD license, EPUBGen, a Java library that generates EPUB.
To quote from our digital publishing developer blog:

EPUBGen is a Java library that demonstrates EPUB generation from a variety of document formats, and which may be a useful starting point or reference code for other EPUB generation needs. That is to say, it’s an effort to promote the development of a variety of tools and workflows.
EPUBGen has both a set of back-end code generation modules and front end format importer modules. The back-end modules generate EPUB and illustrate more advanced functionality, including font subset embedding with obfuscation

The code itself can be found on the epub-tools Google Code site, which includes other sub-projects witg Python/XSLT scripts for generating EPUB from DocBook and TEI XML. For more of the gory details on font embedding with obfuscation (aka “mangling”), which illustrates the recently published IDPF Tech Noteabout same, see this related blog post.

NY Times Reader 2.0 – now built on AIR

NY Times today launched the Times Reader 2.0, built on Adobe AIR, with significant involvement from folks here at Adobe. A “killer app”? Well, newspapers face fundamental business model challenges that arguably transcend the reading experience, so I’m not sure I’d go that far. But as a beta tester I found I definitely preferred it to just viewing articles on the web, and it shows the power of Flash for enabling rich media, interactivity, and a more engaging overall experience.
A side note: the Times Reader 2.0 utilizes new text capabilities in Flash Player 10 (and the latest AIR release) as well as an Adobe enabling component, somewhat uncreatively named the Text Layout Framework (TLF). While the Times Reader 2.0 runs as a standalone app via AIR, at the recent Tools of Change I showed for the first time a sneak peak of a browser-based renderer for native EPUB using FP10 & TLF. Stay tuned for more on this.