Last month the Economist took note that paper consumption by U.S. office workers has been declining since 2001, after doubling over the 20 years prior (despite much talk about the “paperless office” starting in the 1970s). Ironically, this peak was marked by publication of The Myth of the Paperless Office, and Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal review in the New Yorker The Social Life of Paper, a peerless paean to paper. But all that theorizing about the innate superiority and longevity of paper seems to have been dead wrong. As the Economist notes in a related article, it seems to be more of a generational thing: “Older people still prefer a hard copy of most things, but younger workers are increasingly comfortable reading on screens and storing and retrieving information on computers or online.”
This was part of a broader look by the Economist at how so-called discredited technologies are often just ahead of their time.
The Economist didn’t mention eBooks, but it’s a pretty obvious connection. Tellingly, Amazon is selling The Myth of the Paperless Office as a Kindle eBook for $9.99, or in paper for $34.00 plus shipping.
Hindawi is a commercial STM (Science, Technology, and Medicine) publisher, publishing 100+ peer-reviewed Open Access journals. They are beginning to adopt EPUB, using LaTex-based workflow to generate SVG from MathML. The results look great, both on PCs with Digital Editions and on the Sony Reader 505 (with latest firmware). The equations are “live” including selectable text. This is the kind of content that, prior to EPUB with its support for vector graphics and embedded fonts, one would have expected to see only in final-form PDF. It’s also nice to see EPUB starting to gain organic adoption to deliver the advantages of adaptive-layout plus visual richness beyond the trade book market.
Samples can be seen here . Props to CEO Ahmed Hindawi and his team in Cairo, Egypt.
Those who predict the Internet and digital content will spell the end of general trade publishing houses may feel supported by today’s Wired article How the Self-Published Debut Daemon Earned Serious Geek Cred. The article portrays a success story as “demonstrating that if you can get the geek grapevine on your side, you don’t need Random House”. All well and good… until the part about total sales adding up to mouse nuts: “A dozen or so bloggers wrote posts about the book, kindling sales of up to 50 copies a month”… then the big guns started promoting it, and sales got really hot: “As of March, more than 1,200 copies had been shipped”.
No insult intended to author Zeraus nee Suarez who “is planning to release a sequel”. It may be great stuff. But these are not stats to write home about, much less to hang a “who needs Random House” thesis on. Per an established literary agent:
Less than 5000 actual sales, result: misery… A solid midlist novel would reap on the order of 3,500-7,000 hardcover sales and 10,000-25,000 paperbacks in the US.
Was Daemon the best self-publishing succes story Josh McHugh could come up with? If that’s the case, and a Silicon Valley social-network-savvy marketing campaign and the support of A-list bloggers was insufficient to yield interesting sales, then predctions of imminent trade-publishing doom start to sound a lot less realistic.
The OpenReader Consortium was formed in early 2004 as a grass-roots effort to foster the development of an open, non-proprietary next-generation eBook standard, based on and addressing key limitations of the then-stagnant IDPF OEBPS. The OpenReader vision was to end the “Tower of eBabel” of incompatible proprietary formats that has plagued the nascent digital publishing industry. Recently there has been some strife between leaders of the OpenReader effort. One of them, David Rothman of TeleRead, has suggested that I speak out on the OpenReader situation, inviting me to post on the teleread site (this article may appear there in slightly edited form).
Well, in my book, the squabbling amongst OpenReader folks obscures the real point. OpenReader can justifiably take a bow and declare victory on its initial goals. OpenReader acted as a major kick in the pants to a revitalized IDPF organization, which has in the last year finalized a container packaging standard and released a working draft of the next version of OEBPS, all very much in line with the format-related aspects of the original OpenReader goals, and benefiting from participation of key OpenReader leaders including Jon Noring. Proprietary reflow-centric formats (Mobipocket, .LIT, eReader, Sony BBEB, etc.) are on the verge of becoming obsolete. So the “threat” of OpenReader forking a dormant OEBPS is no longer necessary, and could only make the Tower of eBabel worse.
As Chess great Aron Nimzovich said, “the threat is stronger than its execution”. This principle also implies not sticking with the same threat longer than necessary. What I see as the real core value of OpenReader is a thoroughly independent perspective, a mindset that is inherently (even overly) suspicious of large corporate interests, be they large publishers or large tech vendors. Whether a group be industry-specific, like IDPF or OMA, or broad-based, like OASIS and W3C, commercial interests are generally going to be at the forefront. So speaking as an individual who wants to see digital publsihing blossom, rather than as an Adobe employee, I see the value to the open standards ecosystem of the kind of “irritant” role that OpenReader has played. There are clearly other areas in which OpenReader could stay relevant and constructively agitate for progress, including open source implementations of the new open standards, and the interoperable “friendly DRM” that David, Jon and others have often mentioned (but never detailed).
So how about we (OpenReader leaders and fellow-travellers) declare victory with respect to the base content format – maintaining vigilence with a skeptical eye towards the IDPF and other standards groups – and move on to focus on these other areas, and foster yet more progress towards a future in which all published content is reliably available in digital form?
Now on Adobe Labs, preview of a new XML-friendly version of PDF, codenamed “Mars”:
The Mars (code name) Project is an XML-friendly implementation of PDF syntax. Already an open specification, PDF is the global standard for trusted, high fidelity electronic documentation. The Mars file format incorporates additional industry standards such as SVG, PNG, JPG, JPG2000, OpenType, Xpath and XML into ZIP-based document container. The Mars plug-ins enable recognition of the Mars file format by Adobe Acrobat 8 and Adobe Reader 8 software.
The Mars document container is compatible with the recently standardized IDPF OCF. This should naturally lead to new opportunities for tight integration between the industry standard final-form publication format, PDF, and the emerging industry standard for reflow-centric publications, OPS (aka OEBPS).
Note that the Mars plug-ins require Acrobat or Reader 8. Reader 8 also went live earlier this week, and features a fantastic UI makeover. Readder’s still a very capable and featureful piece of software, but IMO the new UI makes its capabilities much more approachable. Both Acrobat and Reader 8 also feature integration with Adobe Digital Editions, our new lightweight consumer-optimized client software for managing and reading eBooks and other digital publications.
For publishers, the standardization of a capable scripting language and associated open-source runtime should provide increased confidence in embedding interactivity into next-generation content experiences. There are still issues to be dealt with, including API standardization for archivable interactivity: Flash and the browser still utilize separate DOM interfaces and have other API and capability differences. But there’s no doubt that this is a major advance. It also marks a major step forwards in Adobe’s engagement with the open source and open standards communities. This is not the first and certainly not the last open source contribution by Adobe, but it is definitely the most fundamental so far, and opens the door to other win-win engagements in the future.
More on the announcement here from Emmy Huang, Flash Player product manager.
Another very scary article about CO2 emissions and global warming , this time in the Herald (U.K.). While there are a host of things we should do to mitigate the impact of human-induced climate change, working to increase digital content delivery is one of the no-brainers. Paper products consume 40% of landfill space, and tremendous amounts of resources and energy go into paper production and printing, and the transportation of paper-based information. Of course some energy and therefore resources are expended transmitting a megabyte of bits over the Internet – but many orders of magnitude less than printing and trucking around the several pounds of paper book those bits can replace.
We can love paper books all we want. I certainly do. But most of the people on the planet simply can’t afford them. And per the Herald article, in the long run neither can the rest of us. Creating highly usable, compelling experiences for digital reading and, over time, replacing a significant portion of current paper consumption with digital consumption, is simply one of our “must do’s”.
Today the IDPF announced the completion of OCF 1.0, the single-file container packaging specification. With a record 88 members, IDPF includes a broad cross-section of publishers, vendors, service providers, and library and learning insitutions. The super-majority vote to elevate OCF represents strong incremental progress towards ending the “Tower of eBabel” of incompatible proprietary eBook formats. With PDF for final-form paginated publications and XHTML (now with OCF packaging) for reflow-centric content publishers can address all their requirements via broadly-adopted open standards.
Adobe’s new Digital Editions publishing platform supports the forthcoming OEBPS profile of XHTML with OCF, as mentioned in the IDPF press release. In addition last week Adobe also announced a technology preview of Project Mars, which is developing an XML representation of PDF. The single-file packaging for Mars is based on IDPF OCF, and the page contents description is based on W3C SVG, which the IDPF OEBPS WG is working to support within the eBook profile of XHTML.
While Mars is still at an early stage, the prospect of a single container format and XML-friendly standards-based representation for both paginated PDF and “liquid” XHTML based content is a very promising development.
The bandwagon of convergence to broadly-adopted open standards for digital publishing is definitely rolling! I strongly encourage anyone pushing NIH-driven alternative formats to put their egos, spite and vested interests aside and actively participate in the IDPF community process. I also encourage any content publishers considering adopting non-standard formats to beware: despite the rhetoric, these look to make the “Tower of eBabel” even worse, and could represent a costly cul-de-sac.
Adobe Digital Editions, an all-new application for reading and managing eBooks and other digital publications, was announced today and is live on Adobe Labs website. Free eBooks are also available.
I’m incredibly excited about the future of Publishiing 2.0. A lot more to come. Our whole team will be hanging out on the user forum on the Labs site, at least once they catch up on their sleep after a long weekend of work to make this release, so send your cards and letters there, be they roses or brickbats.
Tremendously thoughtful article by the editor of the Roanoke Times, Mike Riley (in the Harvard Journalism School’s journal).
Newspapers are widely considered the most endangered of any segment of traditional publishing. But absolutely no hangdog attitude here: the positivity with which these guys have embraced the digital publishing revolution is incredibly refreshing. To reinvent newspaper they realized they “need to split the word ‘newspaper’ apart and realize that it’s the ‘news’ that’s most important and not the ‘paper.'” This is the kind of constructive and forward-thinking mindset we all should be striving for to make “Publishing 2.0″ a reality [via Peter Brantley]. Heck if newspapers can reinvent themselves, despite the intense pressure from TV, online news, and Google, there’s absolutely not excuse not to think positively in reinventing trade, magazine and textbook publishing too.