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Here Come E-Books for Everybody
British Library backs Flash and Silverlight
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2008-12-17 09:46 (KST)   
At a keynote earlier this month for Online Information, Clay Shirky spoke about the communities around any online resource and their potential for action. This raised a question about the nature of an "e-book" even as they were assumed to be widely accepted. The British Library displayed classic books in full colour motion on plasma screens, upstaging the current range of e-book hardware with text in several shades of grey.

As reported on the IWR blog, Shirky gave an example of student customers for a bank that changed the terms of an overdraft offer. Through the Web the students were able to exchange information and make it easier to switch to another bank. "HSBC backed down not because the students were upset but because they were upset, organised and co-ordinated."

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The e-book idea has arrived through steady growth in sales and also new hardware with Sony support for the ePUB format. As Stanza now allows ePUB to be read on an iPhone or iPod there is a blurred boundary on what a book is. Feedbooks offers a service to create a file from any blog or RSS. This might be a book but could also contain any information relevant for a particular activity.

Bob Kasher, Director of Sales for the MPS Global Reader, stated that the Stanza software for the iPhone has been downloaded half a million times and 20,000 books are downloaded each day. MPS now support the ePUB format and are switching all other content for e-books. When I suggested that an iPhone screen was not designed for long texts, when compared to the Kindle or Sony Reader, he pointed out that the number 11 text for Stanza downloads is "War and Peace." Maybe people read a section at a time on route to actual paper so the "e-book" is just an episode when moving.

Kate worlock
©2008 William Pollard
In a presentation on industry trends, Kate Worlock suggested that Stanza could be as surprising a success on the iPhone as text messaging, only intended in the original design for use by engineers. Reading an e-book on an iPhone will make sense if it is convenient enough compared to the expense of an extra device. Meanwhile several branches of Waterstones in the UK have no stock of the Sony Reader and there is no sign of the Amazon Kindle outside the US.

Worlock also spoke about the role for information in activity, showing publishing detail from the general approach in Shirky's keynote. She demonstrated the integration of content with user workflow and described how publishers were using "Web 2.0" to support enterprises.

On newspapers, she had some bad news. "We have already seen print-based classified advertising collapse."

So the problems are not just to do with the state of the economy. Research by Outsell suggests that between 2008 and 2011 sales for news providers will decline by 4 percent. By contrast sales for "search, aggregation and syndication" are predicted to grow by 15 percent. This year there was no stand for the Financial Times and the Dow Jones stand had no copies of the Wall Street Journal though there was space for Factiva, offering news aggregation.

Turning Pages
©2008 William Pollard
The British Library concentrated on Turning Pages, software to present books as moving images online. They had large plasma screens on their stand and a projector for a presentation. Some aspects of the technology shown have not been announced as they need some further testing but it is clear that the presentation of an "e-book" could go beyond the several shades of static grey available on the Sony Reader and other similar devices. The current version of Turning Pages works on Silverlight from Microsoft, widely seen as competition for Flash from Adobe. It is also available for the Mac. The previous version is still available, based on Shockwave, for those people still using Windows without Vista. There is clearly a close working rapport with Microsoft. Bill Gates has loaned a copy of a Leonardo manuscript.

For more recent documents delivered with managed digital rights the British Library is working with Adobe and now uses the Digital Editions Reader. This presents both PDF and ePUB files through Flash so they are quicker to load. Both Flash and Silverlight are part of a move towards more online animation. The British Library is well placed to make sure that book culture continues as part of this.

However most of the discussion at Online Information was about e-books as they exist currently, in particular the ePUB format. A panel on the publishing industry agreed that ePUB had momentum as a standard. Ernst Kallus from Libre Digital suggested that trade publishing has had a model for e-books during the previous year compared to eight or nine years for academic journals. He looks forward to new devices next year using technology from Plastic Logic. John Peters from Emerald pointed out that digital rights management remains as an issue.

"I have never understood the idea of selling something and then discouraging usage."

My impression was that some publishers are now prepared to relax on restrictions for academic products sold through libraries. Trust in the general public is not as strong but things may change as there is more feedback about e-books. Julian Clayton from Wiley mentioned that the majority of their titles are now in ePUB but pointed out that the Kindle is an exception to acceptance of this standard. He suggested there may be an affordable plugin for Word that would allow more people to create ePUB. Although the files are built on XML standards there is not yet an easy way for most people to create them.

Clayton also spoke about the textbook as "a course between hard covers" and discussed the pedagogy of a more digital world. The current reader devices are portable and the screens can be studied for long periods, but they lack the functionality of personal computers. The panel was chaired by David Penfold from the Loncon College of Communication (LCC). He spoke about the pace of experiment in education, including blogging during lecture. Yet again he also mentioned that the LCC used to be called the London College of Printing (LCP). In my opinion it is now so clear that print is just one part of something else that the staff of former print institutions now have to get used to it.

David Penfold
©2008 William Pollard
Books on paper were featured, though as part of a demonstration for a scanner. Kirtas Technologies showed the APT 2400RA, capable of scanning 2400 pages an hour. It uses two Canon still cameras and a page turning device with the regularity of a classic platen printing machine. There is a video on YouTube that explains this better than words. Once scanned, the book can be reprinted on paper. Kirtas gave away a book of fairy tales.

Open Source had a stronger representation this year, especially in discussions about content management. CMS Watch presented a large map of the companies involved in content management with a significant area for open source.

At a panel session convened by CMS Matt Hamilton suggested from the audience that open source should have been considered at greater length. It seems to be just an aspect of free seminars at trade shows that most of the time is allocated to companies exhibiting. Open source will also be part of BETT next month, a show for technology in education. The relevant stands will probably be on the balconies but well worth seeking out. Hamilton spoke later about Plone and other open source software. There is a short extract on YouTube as a sample of what was said.

Matt Hamilton
©2008 Will Pollard
In general this year seemed to demonstrate that online information is normal. A few years ago there were some people who objected to the Google project to scan books and the consequences of search engines for information professionals. This year Google had a stand to promote Knol, a free resource for expert knowledge. This is intended as being more controlled and centrally edited than Wikipedia. In future there could be links to other Web resources from the same experts and publishers. Whatever happens with Knol the readiness to discuss it demonstrates current acceptance of Web potential.

©2008 William Pollard

Other reports are in the learn9 blog - http:learn9log.blogspot.com
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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