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.
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 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.
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.
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 announced today plans to convert its US eBook Store to the EPUB format, using Adobe Content Server protection technology. NY Times article – TeleRead 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 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..
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%”
I’m excited to be able to announce four new licensees of the Adobe Reader Mobile 9 SDK: Neolux Corporation (Nuutbook), Netronix, Tianjin Jinke Electronics, and last but not least Amazon.
Amazon today announced their new large-screen Kindle DX, including that they have integrated PDF via Adobe’s Reader Mobile technology, giving users instant access to millions of business and personal documents. The integration of PDF technology allows users to simply email PDF files to their Kindle email address or quickly move them to the device using a USB connection. The Adobe SDK also supports PDF reflow, so that text can automatically adapt to the screen size, allowing users to consume PDF documents with an enhanced reading experience.
The Adobe Reader Mobile SDK has previously been licensed by leading device makers worldwide including Bookeen, iRex Technologies, Lexcycle, Plastic Logic, Polymer Vision Ltd, SONY Electronics, Spring Design and others.
Adobe Reader Mobile SDK supports reflowable PDF technology and the EPUB file format, an open eBook standard with broad support from the publishing industry. The Adobe software engine also offers support for Adobe Content Server 4, Adobe’s popular content protection technology that allows publishers to securely distribute eBooks and other digital publications..
I do want to clarify that Amazon’s integration of the Adobe Reader Mobile SDK into the Amazon Kindle DX only includes PDF support, and not support for EPUB or Adobe Content Server 4 protected content. I’m encouraged that this is a first step by Amazon toward open file formats and interoperability, but it is just that: a first step. I find the new large-screen form factor attractive, but as a consumer, I don’t like products that lock me in to a closed architecture. On that basis, I’m afraid I can’t yet recommend the Kindle family, since the commercial eBook support is limited to Amazon’s proprietary format and DRM, for which content can only be acquired from their online store. And, this content is not interoperable with any other reading systems. By contrast the Sony Reader product line offers complete compatibility with both PDF and EPUB, including unprotected and ACS4-protected publications that can be acquired from many different online retailers and libraries. And, this content can be transferred and used on PCs, with Adobe Digital Editions and Sony EBL software, as well as to other compatible devices that will be released soon by other Adobe partners. That’s the open, interoperable ecosystem that Adobe and its partners are working to foster.
Stanza, the leading iPhone eBook software, includes an excellent online catalog system that enables users to seamlessly acquire free and commercial content from within the application. The Lexcycle team built this system in an open, extensible manner using Atom. Adobe and Lexcycle have been working together on Adobe PDF and EPUB eBook support, and now we are deepening that collaboration in working together, along with the Internet Archive and others, to establish an open architecture enabling widespread discovery, description, and access of book and other published material on the open web. The Open Publication Distribution System (OPDS) is a generalization of the Atom approach used by Stanza’s online catalog. I’m grateful to the Lexcycle team as well as my friend and colleague Peter Brantley for their efforts on behalf of open access and interoperability.
This work is at a relatively early stage, as evidenced by the “DRAFT” notice on the specification wiki and the intentionally lightweight process (i.e. not yet involving a de jure standards body), We are taking a page from the way Atom itself was nurtured in the early going. If you are a reading system provider, or a distributor of free or commercial digital publications and are interested in signing on as a supporter and contributing to the definition of OPDS, get in touch with Peter, myself, or Marc Prud’hommeaux at Lexcycle.
I believe this effort has the potential to be a critical enabler to the growth in access to and adoption of digital books., For consumers, OPDS will deliver seamless integration of convenient acquisition from many sources, on any device or reading system, without lock-in to “One Store to Rule Them All”. For content distributors, ODPS will enable reaching consumers across multiple reading systems and devices: not as a replacement for online Web stores, but as a valuable supplement and on-ramp. For reading system developers, OPDS will make your device/application more useful and valuable. Stay tuned for more soon about how OPDS will be utilized within the Adobe digital publishing solution set.