Microsoft to Publishers: We’ll Do the Thinking For You

Not content with pandering to publishers by viciously attacking Google as a scofflaw, Microsoft is also insulting their intelligence by promoting Microsoft-proprietary Windows-Vista-centric solutions for digital publishing. New evidence just in of their unilateralist intentions: Microsoft has officially resigned their membership in the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).
So what’s Microsoft’s beef with publishers and vendors coming together to establish open interoperable standards, unencumbered by patent minefields? Well, in the same AAP speech that attacked Google. Thomas Rubin dropped some hints (emphasis added):

We’ve also invested heavily in making the online reading experience richer and more engaging. One of my favorite examples is the collaboration between Microsoft and The New York Times to create the Times Reader. Times Reader is a technology that combines the readability and portability of the printed New York Times newspaper – the hardcopy, if you will – with the interactivity and immediacy of the Web … Several other news publishers, including Associated Newspapers, Forbes, and the Hearst Corporation, have recently begun rolling out similar digital reader applications based on Microsoft technologies, and the results are very impressive. Another innovation that’s a personal favorite of mine is the British Library’s “Turning The Pages 2.0” technology. It was recently launched in late January and is built on Microsoft’s .NET 3.0 engine which is integrated into Windows Vista

Since Microsoft has obviously set out on a path to unilaterally establish a digital publishing platform tied to their monopoly OS platform, why should they support open standards and an inclusive process that involves publishers as more than just passive recipients of the latest Microsoft technologies?
I’m a big fan of engaging experiences and liberating digital reading from browser and online-only limitations. But, doing this in a Windows-centric way is playing along with Microsoft’s monopolistic strategy. No criticism of the early adopting publishers intended: newspapers are in a fight for their lives and justifiably experimenting like mad to find a formula that works. But as this gets beyond the stage of experimentation, publishers should be looking for open standards that work across PC operating systems and devices, and that don’t create vendor lock-in.
And I trust that Microsoft will eventually revisit their strategy. Publishing is not the music business and an iTunes-esque single-vendor-lock-in approach is simply not going to be successful. The publishing community demands open, interoperable standards and while collaborative standards development can be painful, it is a necessary process. And the IDPF has been moving fast, with OCF (single-file container format) approved and OPS (a major revision to the XHTML-based OEBPS standard) nearing completion. Microsoft hasn’t actively participated in IDPF in several years but they are always welcome back. Hopefully they’ll be ready to share toys and play nice.

4 Responses to Microsoft to Publishers: We’ll Do the Thinking For You

  1. bowerbird says:

    bill-
    maybe they read your “game over” posts
    and decided the fat lady hadn’t sung yet.
    -bowerbird

  2. Mike Perry says:

    Don’t confuse Google’s dubious copyright behavior with the other things Microsoft is doing. Although the technology is new, Google’s all-the-text database is the sort of derivative that copyright law restricts to a copyright holder, particularly since Google intends to use it for profit rather than in-house scholarship. And displaying 20% to the public is miles beyond what you can get away with as fair use, particularly since Google is providing no scholarship or commentary of its own.
    On the other hand, Microsoft’s moves to create a proprietary, virtually Windows-only environment for ebooks and online books should get Adobe’s attention.
    I’m a small Mac/InDesign publisher with some fifty printed and ebook titles out. Just recently, I found out that Amazon no longer sells PDF ebooks (Adobe Glassbook) like ours. I quote what they told me:
    “Mobipocket is currently the only platform we provide for eBooks. We believe that the MobiPocket format provides the best overall customer experience in the industry.”
    Bosh! I looked at the specs. Mobipocket is a weak, propriety format now owned by Amazon. It’s woefully inadequate for any text beyond the sort you’d put on a Palm Pilot. And that’s assuming that a publisher, who’s already created a PDF for a print version, is willing to put up with the hassle of creating, editing and proofing an ebook in that weird format with Windows-only software. Microsoft may or may not be involved in that major blunder, but Amazon certainly is. And since they’re the largest online book distributor on the planet, Adobe should take note.
    Something similar is happening with the British Library. Last week when I tried to access their “Turning the Pages” (mentioned above) for an century-old London newspaper for a book I’m editing, I found that it was Windows IE only. It wouldn’t work with my Mac using Firefox or Safari because it isn’t written to web standards, only to suit Microsoft. I sent them an email that probably didn’t do much for trans-Atlantic relations.
    Again, don’t mix what Google’s trying to do with copyrighted books with what Amazon, the British Library, and Microsoft are doing to make digital publishing a Microsoft-only shop. That’s what you need to focus on.
    If you want to win this battle, work with publishers rather than bad mouthing them as fools who can be duped by Microsoft’s “pandering.” I suggest you look into one of these options:
    1. Release as very cheap or as open software everything that publishers need to market and sell their Adobe PDFs online. That includes everything from a “Search Inside” feature to the shopping cart and credit verification. And make it run on the Linux web hosting services many small businesses use. If you want Adobe PDF to stay at the top of the market, make it profitable for publishers to create, offer as searchable (under our own rules), and sell Adobe PDFs.
    Or:
    2. Create a very well-publicized, Adobe-hosted service for online searching and selling ebooks online. (In short, do what Amazon no longer does.) Make it very attractive for publishers from small to large. Offer sales two ways, one as part of a large, all-publisher Amazon-like store where “Search Inside” works with everyone’s books. Make the other view something publishers can link to from their own website and that’ll search and sell only their books. No publisher likes to link a customer to a competitor’s product any more than Adobe likes to promote Quark.
    Or:
    3. If you want to let others do the selling, do something similar, working with a multiplicity of on-line stores. But create a single, one-stop Adobe destination that publishers can use to upload everything (a detailed description, sample pages,TOC, cover art, files etc.) to distribute an Adobe ebook. Lightning Source already does that for our ebooks, but it gives us no way of adding marketing material and descriptions to our ebooks. They go out as raw PDF to gosh-only knows how many sellers. I don’t have time to track them all down with marketing content.
    Whatever you do, make it sensible and be sure to work with publishers. We’re in a business that owes more to Adobe than Microsoft. We aren’t fools and we aren’t your opponents. Treat us with proper respect.
    If you’re interested, I’d be happy to offer further advice. I’m only about 15 minutes from your Seattle offices, and I typically come to the InDesign and Acrobat user groups there.
    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Seattle

  3. Robert Nagle says:

    Mike, I find a lot to like about the mobipocket format (and they provide some excellent & free content creation tools too).
    Graphics-wise, mobipocket has a long way to go though. Only a few months ago they announced support for jpeg images on their cover art, and even now it hasn’t been completely rolled out on their various reader platforms. That is a real bummer.
    The only other alternative is Framemaker + xml (7.2) which amazingly I have not tried yet. BTW, I am probably to do a trial download just to see how Framemaker separates presentation from markup. I’m very curious. The $800 pricetag is a substantial investment though; I’d have to be convinced there was an easy way to create content in it and still be able to export to mobipocket and other reader software with smaller mindshare.

  4. Robert Nagle says:

    Sorry another point. I think one reason for Perry’s dismay is that his workflow didn’t plan for the possibility of publishing in different formats. For me, that’s a given. Frankly, although this was a little unusual for Amazon to drop pdf docs (and hopefully later they’ll change their minds),but it was not surprising (given their purchase of mobipocket).