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Media Education

Open eBook Forum Courts Controversy Over Formats 184

Brad Rigby writes "TeleRead's David Rothman is calling for [1, 2] the replacement of the Open eBook Forum by "an honest trade association" and a related standards body to create an open standards ebook format at the consumer-level. This will benefit publishers, distributors and retailers, librarians, the open-source community, and most importantly book readers. Largely because of the proprietary format wars, ebooks have flopped commercially, with only an estimated ten million dollars in sales in 2003. In addition, OeBF is being held hostage by its Gold Sponsors, including Microsoft, Adobe, and Palm Digital, companies with proprietary, incompatible ebook format solutions. And to make matters worse, OeBF's president, Steve Potash, runs OverDrive, a company profiting from this "Tower of eBabel", which, according to David, is an obvious conflict of interest and the reason why OeBF is no longer living up to the promise of a standard consumer ebook format. Interesting detail: The OeBF is so focused on promoting its Gold Sponsors that it has yet to speak out against European VATs that will tax e-books but not p-books."
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Open eBook Forum Courts Controversy Over Formats

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  • by Psychic Burrito ( 611532 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:19PM (#7788149)
    It's called ASCII.
  • so what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mutewinter ( 688449 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:21PM (#7788162)
    Does anyone actually think that the lack of a single format is scaring consumers away from ebooks, and solely because of this they've been a flop? I'd wager to guess that ebook sales are going to be pretty dismal for quite a ways into the future.
    • Re:so what? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Vaevictis666 ( 680137 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:40PM (#7788339)
      I don't know about that. If I had a decent device that was capable of viewing "standard" ebook formats, could hold a fair amount of text (say 6-7 novels the size of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books), was easy to read (and maybe backlit) I wouldn't mind picking one up for my bus rides to/from work. It would mean no need to muss marking my page, and a smaller package to stick in my pocket. Plus without paper production costs, I could see ebooks selling for $2 or so, compared to $10 or so for paperback these days.
      • Exactly! eBook prices would be much lower than the cost of an equivalent paperback, much like CD prices were significantly lower than cassettes and vinyl albums due to reduced production costs.

        Oh, wait...

        • No, the correct comparison I would like to make is "eBook prices would be much lower than the cost of an equivalent paperback, much like downloadable mp3 prices are significantly lower than CDs due to reduced production costs."

          Case in point, let me open up iTunes. There we go, top of the page, LotR Return of the King soundtrack - 19 tracks, $12 for the album. has it for $15.

          A more drastic example would be Sarah McLachlan's Remixed, which goes for $10 electronically, but $15 for a hard copy.

          • Although you have a point, I'd also point out that the reason we have iTunes or any other legal music download service is that 'illegal' competition from napster and the like forced the hand of the music industry. The music industry never (ok, not 'never', but certainly not for a long time and not on such a large scale) would have done such a thing on their own. This situation doesn't exist in the publishing world because of the comparative difficulty of 'pirating' paper books in electronic form. It takes a
        • by Jason Earl ( 1894 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @06:04PM (#7789713) Homepage Journal

          The only publisher that I know of that has even an inkling of a clue when it comes to ebooks is Baen [].

          Not only do they offer a wide variety of "free" books, but the books that you do pay for are cheaper than paperbacks. If you buy them in their monthly bundles they are considerably cheaper than paperbacks. Not to mention the fact that the books are available in unencrypted formats.

          Read a few Baen books on your PDA (I would suggest the Belisarius series by David Drake and Eric Flint the first three are in the free library), and then tell me that carrying around 60 books on your PDA isn't better than trying to take a paperback without you everywhere.

        • eBook prices would be much lower than the cost of an equivalent paperback, much like CD prices were significantly lower than cassettes and vinyl albums due to reduced production costs.
          Production costs of books are typically an extremely small percentage of the cost of the book. Here [] is some data on college textbooks. Note that the 32% includes both production costs and editorial costs, so production costs are really a tiny slice of the pie.

          Also, production costs on CDs started out being significantly hig

      • I've been using my Palm Pilot and for that - no Robert Jordan books (I think - let me check - well, screw me, they've got some).

        Backlit, nice PDA to start, and the text for me is pretty clear - a Zire is pretty cheap these days and works with Peanutpress as well I understand.

        Then again, I have a Tungsten C - it makes a great Nintendo emulator ;).
      • Re:so what? (Score:3, Interesting)

        If I had a decent device that was capable of viewing "standard" ebook formats, could hold a fair amount of text (say 6-7 novels the size of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books), was easy to read (and maybe backlit) I wouldn't mind picking one up for my bus rides to/from work.

        I agree, I started looking into e-books recently, looking for a device that was large enough to support "normal" sized text, the odd graphic or diagram here and there, something light, and backlit, that I would be just as comfortable

    • Re:so what? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mahdi13 ( 660205 )

      Does anyone actually think that the lack of a single format is scaring consumers away from ebooks, and solely because of this they've been a flop? I'd wager to guess that ebook sales are going to be pretty dismal for quite a ways into the future.

      Yes, but not for the right reasons. If eBook readers were shoved down our throats with advertisments like the iPod w/iTunes is, they would sell millions!
      I have no problems reading a book on my PalmOS, but then the format problem comes in and causes problems. Ther

    • Re:so what? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kazir ( 48851 )
      > actually think that the lack of a single format is scaring consumers

      I don't think that it is scaring consumers away, but might discourage them. And from a distributor point of view and publisher point of view, a standardized format can only increase sales. Otherwise, at some point, what is happening to the music industry will happen to the print industry.

      Standardizing should increase competition between eBook platforms, and increase quality. All in all better for the consumer and distributor.

      So, as
    • Re:so what? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:45PM (#7788867) Journal
      Does anyone actually think that the lack of a single format is scaring consumers away from ebooks, and solely because of this they've been a flop?

      Well, I do, sort of. I have a Zaurus, and before that I had a Palm.

      I liked to read ebooks on the Palm, and I liked it even better on the Zaurus. I read some classics, some popular science books made freely available by Dr. William Calvin, and some free Baen science fiction novels.

      As it happens, I'd previously bought some of Dr. Calvin's books in soft and hard cover; reading his ebooks (actually, Plucked HTML) encouraged me to buy more. At least one of the Baen titles prompted me to buy its sequel in soft-cover -- and without having read the ebook, I'd never have heard of the author, and probably wouldn't have bought his book.

      I went to to get some books, but most of them were either in proprietary formats -- which the Zaurus can't read with any open source reader --, or in Palm .doc format -- which is technically lacking compared to, say, the Plucker format.

      I signed up with, and downloaded some of their freebies. Their version of .doc didn't play well with my reader on the Zaurus, so I emailed fictionwise, and explained I'd be happy to pay them for books, if I could read those books in Plucker format. I realized they'd only be willing to do this for books in unencrypted formats, but I figured that they could at least convert books in (unprotected) Palm .doc format.

      Fictionwise, to their credit, did take they time to reply to me, but they reply was that they didn't have any interest in the Plucker format.

      I haven't been back to since.

      I'm not a pirate. While I have about 10000 mp3s, all were legitimately obtained, most through the now sadly stunted

      As someone who writes code, some of it GPL'd, I'm sensitive to copyright, and I don't want to violate anyone's copyright anymore than I want my copyright violated. As someone who writes code, some of it for profit, I know that artists and authors deserve compensation for their work, and I want to see them get that compensation, if only for the very selfish reason that I want them concentrating on creating their next work (so I can enjoy it) rather than concentrating on how to cadge some more Ramen noodles before malnutrition sets in.

      Even if I didn't feel morally opposed to copyright "piracy", I really don't have the patience to browse KaZaa or whatever to find inferior rips and munged transcriptions of creative works. I have a few bucks in my pocket, and I'm not adverse to spending a few bucks on a good book or an good CD.

      But that book or CD needs to be convenient to ne to. Publishers need to understand that DRM'd music files are worth less than nothing to me, because my portable MP3 player won't play them. DRM'd books are worth less than nothing to me, because my portable computer won't display them.

      Were the music or the books in a accessible format, I'd put my money were my mouth is. I was happy to sign up with emusic (until they drastically limited downloads in November); I wanted to buy books from fictionwise.

      But don't treat me like a dummy: I don't want it in a format I can't use, or must ask permission every time I use, or can't transfer from one machine or another, or (as with the PDF version of the ANSI C++ Standard) I can't copy at least small portions of to quote.

      Do that, and I'll fall back on MP3s, and ASCII text, and in the case of the C++ Standard, the Draft Working Paper. Do that, and you've lost me as a customer. And once you've lost me as a customer, don't come weeping to me that it's piracy that destroyed your business model. Publishers have destroyed their business models all by themselves, by being more concerned about thwarting shop-lifters than pleasing paying customers.
      • Gutenberg and Baen (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Politas ( 1535 )
        That's why all my e-books are from Gutenberg or Baen. No DRM. Baen are great, they realise that releasing e-books without any DRM hassles actually increases sales. When you get a book from them, you can get it in just about any format you want, inluding RTF and HTML, from which you should be able to convert to any format they don't provide. I've bought some e-books from them, and plan to buy more.

        I love reading novels on my Palm. The backlit screen means I can read in the dark; if I fall asleep while
      • ...or (as with the PDF version of the ANSI C++ Standard) I can't copy at least small portions of to quote.

        The restriction on copying text was a publication error. The current PDF version permits it. I don't know whether there's any possibility of a free "upgrade".

        • I don't know whether there's any possibility of a free "upgrade".

          Yeah, I'd heard that the later editions didn't have this problem. But I got a copy soon after it came out. I suppose I should just spend another $18 bucks.
  • by Karamchand ( 607798 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:21PM (#7788163)
    ..because of incompatible format but because most people just don't want to read a book on the computer screen.
    They want to take the book with them (and not everyone has a laptop), they want to read it on the toilet, they think it's uncomfortable reading long texts from screen, and with many screen and workplace setups it is unhealthy too.
    • by jared_hanson ( 514797 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:31PM (#7788270) Homepage Journal
      I agree with your point here. However, there is defiately a place for eBooks. In college, I longed for an electronic copy of my texts so I could search them on the computer. It was always a pain flipping through pages and skimming for info that I had read a week prior. Then, having to do it all over after realizing I had gone to far and must have missed what I was looking for.

      It would have also been useful for printing out the problem at the top of the sheet of paper I was going to work the problem on. Its not fun having to flip back and forth between the problem at the end of the chaper and where it is detailed in the chapter's text.

      Ebooks probably aren't suited for novels, but they could do wonders for school text books.
      • I thought the same thing, until I took a class in seminary with the textbook on CD (in .pdf format).

        Since I don't have a notebook, I tried going to class a few times without the textbook. I found very quickly that those students without my aversion to paper could easily win arguments related to the text because they had printed the relevant chapters and brought them with them to class.

        I started printing the chapters out of sheer survival. Fortunately, I was able to print out the book at 2 pages/sheet (tha
        • yes, but no. The key word was electronic copy of his text book. In a highschool english class, my teacher wanted us to dig out every reference to a certain word (he gave us a list, pick one) from Shakespeare. We all gave him this funny look and he said 'go to (can't remember the university).edu and one of the student pages should have a full text that is fully searchable.'

          With laptops, having a completely electronic text is possible, but its really all about note taking. I had the opportunity to go the l

          • I'll have to agree with you. Having a Powerbook in front of me would have been too much temptation for a bit of practice fragging. (Yes, seminarians frag, too. ;-) )

            On the other hand, I've often used .pdf files of texts for research when writing my papers. Nothing beats having John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion in .pdf format when you're trying to write a paper on predestination. This past semester, I downloaded practically everything Augustine wrote to write a paper on his treatment of tim
    • of having to lend my entire e-book library to someone if I want to lend them a book to read, as opposed to the traditional method of lending a single book from my library to someone and then never getting it back. Lending an e-book and 1) potentially losing a $200 reader and 2) not being able to read any other e-books in the interim (unless I have another reader) is a major disincentive to buying and using e-books.

      Oh, and they don't have very many features that regular books don't have, other than restrict
    • "They want to take the book with them (and not everyone has a laptop), they want to read it on the toilet, they think it's uncomfortable reading long texts from screen" I can keep many eBooks in my PDA and take the PDA with me anywhere. I can adjust the color/contrast/font on screen screen to make the text comfortable to read. I don't see a problem there.
    • On my SE P900 (and before that P800, and before that on my Osaris [PSION clone]) I read eBooks on the toilet.

      I use gutenmark [] to convert guten-texts to half-decent html from which I build eBooks using mobi-pocket publisher.

      MobiPocket-Reader [] is the BEST ebook reader in the world (with a free version) supporting more platforms than you can imagine (TRY!)

      Mobi have an extensive online library, but also supply a personal publisher tool that can work text, html, and open-ebook format sources (not too strict) t
  • by Anonymous Coward
    How do I print them and bind them?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:22PM (#7788175)
    Have ebooks really flopped "largely due to format wars," or is it actually more to do with ease of use? I've yet to come across a mass-market reader that matches the flexibility of paper (sorry!) and that won't kill me if I try to read in the bath...
    • I've yet to come across a mass-market reader that matches the flexibility of paper (sorry!) and that won't kill me if I try to read in the bath...

      I regularly read my Palm Pilot (actually, Handspring) in the bath, without problems.

      eBooks can actually be more convenient than paper in some ways: the eBook is typically lighter than a paperback, and the "page" can be "turned" with on hand, given a suitable set up.

      Really, it made for easier bath-tub reading.
  • by dus ( 139697 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:23PM (#7788178)
    Largely because of the proprietary format wars, ebooks have flopped commercially, with only an estimated ten million dollars in sales in 2003.

    Or maybe, just maybe, people prefer real books? Maybe the market just isn't there right now.
  • bah... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Zurk ( 37028 ) <zurktech&gmail,com> on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:23PM (#7788181) Journal
    i released a (crappy) doc reader (there have been better ones since) for the AportisDOC standard for e-books under the GPL a loong time ago.
    The DOc format is open, can be extended to be secure and is already out there ...theres no real need for yet another crappy e-book standard. we already have one.
  • by Watchman_ds ( 238262 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:24PM (#7788195) Journal
    For a technophile like me, reading an ebook is fine (I once read the complete stories of Sherlock Holmes stories on my PDA). But for most people, a page turning, bookmarking, throw-it-in-your-bag-and-go book is much more pleasurable to read.

    Perhaps the lack of success on ebooks is because reading one just isn't the same.

    There's a reason the book format has been popular since Julius Caesar. He didn't have a European power adapter to recharge his ebook!
    • The codex - flat book bound on one side with "leaves" - wasn't in use in C. Iulius Caesar's time. It was invented sometime between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD; Caesar as everyone knows died in 44 BCE.
  • by Amsterdam Vallon ( 639622 ) * <> on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:25PM (#7788201) Homepage
    I read a Stephen King interview where he said that people just aren't into books anymore. And it's basically true.

    DVDs and CDs and TVs and LCDs have replaced the printed word. Many househoulds don't even have ONE BOOK on display. Kids are going to start growing up without ever having read a book at home or had their parents read to them.

    It's truly a sad state of affairs here in America.
    • True!

      (Looks over at the large stack of books awaiting shippment from sales on ebay.)
    • Many househoulds don't even have ONE BOOK on display.

      How many is "many". Is this figure higher or lower than in the past? Hell, I can make up bullshit statistics like that myself.

      Pretty shoddy reasoning for someone who claims they are with an institute of higher learning. Maybe this preceived decline in affairs is due to lousy colleges.
    • I wouldn't go that far. I can only speak for myself, but reading is one of those things that needs to be learned before you can enjoy it.

      Ok, now that you've gotten the "is this guy a complete fscking idiot" thoughts out of your head, I'll explain. Aside from just not having time to read, I have been diagnosed with a learning disability. I have a problem with reading, especially if what I'm reading is in a different dilect then what I'm use to (i.e. Shakespeare). And it usually takes me a long time to
      • I think you have a really good point. Furthermore, if you want younger kids to read, they first have to have time to read. And the problem there is that, most of the times they have to "themselves" (on the bus, after school etc.) they're interacting with their friends (something else that is valuable for their development).

        When I was a kid, I used to do a lot of reading right before I went to bed. The problem was that I got tired, so a lot of sections of books ended up getting absorbed where I wasn't maybe
      • You might be interested in this:

        I don't know about the US, but in Sweden, you can go to a public library and borrow Daisy books for free if you are dylectic, vision impaired or have any other reason why you can't read a "normal" book.

        I know there are several US companies and libraries in the Daisy consortium, so you might find something if you search a bit.
    • I disagree with...

      I read a Stephen King interview where he said that people just aren't into books anymore.

      Get a kid a book on a topic that they are interested in and they'll read it. My son is into various card games (Yu Ghi Oh - hope I'm spelling correctly, Pokemon, etc...), Calvin & Hobbs, and anything to do with turtles (he has 3 of these for pets). Most of his friends read books and his school actually encourages reading through "book exchanges" around the holidays.

      I guess I can see where
    • Give the craze of Harry Potter in the past few years I find this very hard to believe. I don't think books have ever been as popular as they are now. Of course you could be trolling...
    • I read a Stephen King interview where he said that people just aren't into books anymore.And it's basically true.

      DVDs and CDs and TVs and LCDs have replaced the printed word.

      Right. That's why my local Barnes & Noble was crowded to overflowing this morning (15 minute wait in line) and the Wherehouse right next store was an echoing and empty canyon. I shop both places frequently and the very selfsame contrast between the number of people is almost invariably present. (And when I braved the mall, I n

  • Whatever the outcome of this forum is, the decision should greatly affect the future of the Gutenburg etext project. Spending hours looking at a white notepad file isn't the most exciting thing in the world...there's got to be something better.
    • Re:Gutenburg project (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It won't affect Gutenburg at all. They do not want to release in eBook format, or anything other than ASCII. Its not that they have not released in ebook format because of the lack of a standardized format, they have stayed with ascii for a very simple reason.... you can turn ascii into anything else, but once its in another format, then you may loose something transferring into another format. So even if they come up with a "Perfect" eBook format, its not going to affect Gutenburg at all
      • by jaoswald ( 63789 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @05:45PM (#7789519) Homepage
        But their ASCII is a giant pain-in-the-ass if you want to change it to anything using mark-up. Their ASCII lacks *any* information on how the page is organized. Want to read it in anything more sophisticated than vi? Forget it.

        Yes, free-formatted ASCII is the least-common-denominator. The emphasis goes on LEAST. As in the format with the LEAST usable information.

        Consider As You Like It []. The lines are entered with hard returns at 80 columns. There is no easy way to get a machine to recognize the Scene and Act boundaries, no easy way to get a machine to distinguish between stage directions and dialog and even the character's names. The only navigation is the page-up and page-down key.

        Doing anything useful (where "useful" even includes tolerable navigation through the document !) requires going through these texts all by hand.

        They punted because the electronic formats are volatile, but there is a huge cost to it, in the extreme loss of essential information.
  • by akaina ( 472254 ) * on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:26PM (#7788216) Journal
    text as digital music. Here's what uncle Steve had to say:

    Because of their technological innocence, I would say. When we first went to talk to these record companies -- about eighteen months ago -- we said, "None of this technology that you're talking about's gonna work. We have Ph.D.s here who know the stuff cold, and we don't believe it's possible to protect digital content."
  • by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:26PM (#7788219) Journal
    Do you know why I didn't buy a handheld ebook reader? I will tell you. NONE of them would display PDF's. Not a one, at least I was unable to find one that would.
    • I sometimes read PDFs on my Handspring Visor. It's a pain. I think PDFs in a handheld will be unpleasant at best until we've got handhelds with better than 150dpi resolution.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:46PM (#7788402)
      PDF's are really all about layout and most PDF documents are for printing to 8.5"x11". Most e-book readers aren't going to be in a form factor that can conveniently display 8.5"x11" pages. You would constantly have to be scrolling around. An e-book should have markup that can be adjusted to reflow text and graphics to whatever the display allows. Not only does PDF not allow that, it's pretty well designed to not allow that since its main selling point is that what you see on the screen is exactly what will be printed out (given resolution limitations).
      • This is incorrect.

        A properly created and tagged PDF file can reflow. In fact, I can view PDFs rather easily on my Palm III using Adobe Reader for PalmOS 3.0. I can even look at the images (in their 4-color grayscale glory).

        If the PDF isn't tagged for accessibility, the Reader for PalmOS also comes with a quick-tag utility. It ain't perfect, but it does a nice job--especially if the PDF is mostly text.

        In fact, the difference between PDF and some e-books is mainly the DRM protection.

  • So that's why I can't find The Anarchist's Cookbook on the net anymore.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:29PM (#7788250)
    in 80s, we would have still been playing records and cassettes (and may be mp3-ogg versions of them). see what happened to DAT, DCC, MD etc.

    My feeling is that analog is better than DRM corrupted digital. Ofourse, the best is open-digital like CD-audio.
  • ridiculous format (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SethJohnson ( 112166 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:30PM (#7788257) Homepage Journal

    Largely because of the proprietary format wars, ebooks have flopped commercially
    eBooks have flopped because it's not a desireable format for reading large volumes of text. I installed a copy of the Hobbit on my Handspring and spent about 4 minutes reading the first few pages. The lack of contrast on the handheld was painful on my eyes and it was pretty annoying to have to keep pushing the scroll button. A used paperback is an exponentially better medium for reading than an eBook.
  • One word... (Score:5, Informative)

    by hacker ( 14635 ) <> on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:31PM (#7788268)
    Plucker []. It does ebooks and formatting better than anything else out there, and also does HTML content, RSS feeds, local text files, and lots of other formats.

    The extensive Data Format [] is public, well-documented, and used in dozens of other projects. Lots of companies, commercial and non-profit, have adopted the Plucker format for their content delivery. Out of the other "free" options out there, Plucker reigns supreme (it is also the ONLY one out there that is publically documented, and "Free" to use).

  • Ebooks should be a stripped-down version of the format. By "stripped-down" I mean, exactly the same, just down allow all of the non-essential text enhancements and embedding. Wanna add encryption and DRM? Add it to the format so that in can be used everywhere.

    This reminds me of WAP vs. HTML debocle. . . just because a device is embedded doesn't mean that you need completely new formats.

    . . . Next problem. . .
  • by digrieze ( 519725 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @03:47PM (#7788407)
    It's just that no one wanted what they offered. Look at the things that are the top sellers, they're mostly academic and reference books. Those things are PERFECT for electronic adaptation because they BEG for the search capability that the format provides. The thechinical specifics are pretty irrelevent.

    But for pleasure reading nothing beats paper! You can get it in your choice of editions (Ever tried to read large type on a palm or pocketpc? You'll get half a sentence per screen.) The batteries never run out, the sun never washes out your screen (color) or "flash blinds" you (monochrome). The boot up is instentaneous, pick it up, turn to bookmark. You can even have it "on" during takeoff, you don't have to get freakin' permission from an anal-retentive control-freak stewardess to use it!

    That being said nothing beats the 256mb reference library in my pocket when I need it.

    The problem with the ebook crowd isn't the product, it's that they (act like they) don't know what their customers want. Microsoft was roundly derided for surveying LINUX users about what they liked. Other groups should take a cue from them. Maybe if the ebook publishers PRODUCED WHAT THEIR CUSTOMERS WANTED TO BUY they could sell something (notice that Microsoft mostly publishes SEARCHABLE REFERENCES)!

    What a concept, ask the customer what he would buy-then sell it to him!

    • eBooks might go somewhere if they were less (a lot less) than real books.

      Sure if you have the choice between a $8 book in either paper or digital you're probably going to go paper (unless, like you say, you'd like to be able to search). But what if that eBook were $1 and the real book were $8? There are a lot of books I'd just say "I'm not sure if I'm going to want to use up storage space, I'll just pay a buck and back it up".

      This is speaking from someone who has about a hundred boxes of paperbacks in t
  • Do it the WWW way (Score:2, Interesting)

    I was thinking about this the other day. Maybe what it would take to crack this whole thing open is to create a usefu l reader based on open standards, with no attention to copy prevention, like so:
    • a group of like minds forms a non-profit with open books (in the accounting sense)
    • design a useful piece of reader hardware, in near paperback size, that folds closed with a hard shell, and a flash slot and/or wired/wireless connectivity
    • write some reader software based around some open format like html or so
    • Here, here (Score:3, Insightful)

      by webwench_72 ( 541358 )
      Call me slow, but I really don't understand why HTML/CSS shouldn't be the format. All this talk of PDF and/or some newfangled committee-generated format puzzles me. User-customizable stylesheets should ameliorate most questions of format and readability. Don't like black text on a blinding white screen? Change your stylesheet. Like big print? Like things to wrap? Like things paginated rather than scrollinated? Want a text reader to read your novels to you on the train while you look out the window at the sc
    • with no attention to copy prevention

      What? No insanely intrusive and wildly limiting viewing control? Are you some kind of unamerican hacker-anarchist or something?

      Seriously, the idea of not putting their products under every kind of lock and key imaginable is going to be utter anathema to these guys. _Maybe_, if one of them tries an unprotected format on a large scale and is successful the rest will fall into line. But left to their own devices, most will opt for things like "You cannot read this bo []

  • RCA eBook Reader (Score:5, Informative)

    by eGabriel ( 5707 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:06PM (#7788550) Homepage
    I got an RCA eBook for my girlfriend. There is nothing wrong with it. The screen is nice to read, the battery lasts long enough, and it is comfortable to hold and turn pages.

    It's just a pain in the ass to use with Linux, and the selection of books when you plug in via the modem is pretty bad, and you get this "bookshelf" hosted by some company you aren't sure will be around, and if they fold you lose your books, have no way to back them up to your Linux system, and are pretty much SOL. There are a few projects for creating new eBooks, but it isn't trivial to get them copied to the unit.

    This really sucks; I'd love to replace certain types of paper books I have with one of these readers. I don't have any particular attachment to paper books for most purposes. And I'd love to be able to grab gutenberg's books and put them on her reader easily.
    • So did she thank you or slap you when you explained all the caveats of this gift?
    • SWMBO [] got the same brand at a going-out-of-business sale at Office Max. The "bookshelf" company behind it sent out an announcement a month or two back to say that they are indeed closing their doors and that she now basically owns a very nice paperweight.

      I read this far down the thread hoping someone would have a comment about these orphaned devices, and how to give them a new lease on life. (This one has a modem, USB, and some kind of TCP/IP stack. There must be something useful we can do with it!)

  • by bl968 ( 190792 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:09PM (#7788580) Journal
    We all have seen the many publisher provided services for purchasing E-books.

    These services try to limit your options and choices or even to remove them from you totally. With many of these services you must agree that you do not even own that which you wish to purchase in order to buy it. Instead they license you right to use their private property.

    We see the prices on the virtual which rival that of the physical. We instinctively know that the production cost of a E-book is so much less than the cost of a compact disc or a printed book both of which require paper, ink, artwork, packaging and so much more that is totally lacking from the ethereal versions.

    Their sales decline. "Stop the thieves" they cry out into the night! Make more and harsher laws to protect that which is already protected they demand of our governments. Protect our property and damn the public's rights is their idea of an ideal. I am a honest person is my vehement reply. So why attempt punish me for the crimes of others.

    They attempt to smother new technology on the premise that it may possibly be used for illegal activity.

    While it is not my intention to justify the theft of their material I must point out it's their own fault really. I blame their lack of foresight and their lack of anything resembling common sense. They do not exploit the markets available for them or if they do it's a halfhearted attempt. In the real world people are not buying what you sale one common step generally taken is to consider lowering your prices until your sales pick up. This also applies on the Internet.

    In a concise conclusion I state that I personally prefer to compensate the authors and composers of the material that I so enjoy in my daily life. Currently I do so off-line. So Publishing and recording industries I say make it worth my while and convenient to do so and I will be one of the first in line online.
    • We instinctively know that the production cost of a E-book is so much less than the cost of a compact disc or a printed book both of which require paper, ink, artwork, packaging and so much more that is totally lacking from the ethereal versions.

      The problem is, your 'instinct' is wrong. The physical portion of that $10.00 paperback you can go buy at $BIG_BOX_BOOKSTORE tonight costs about $1.95 or thereabouts plus shipping. But editors cost money, publicity & marketing costs money, authors get a chun

  • by katsushiro ( 513378 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:30PM (#7788730) Homepage
    But I've been using and reading e-books for years now, and I love them, to the point where I barely buy paperbacks anymore. I read them all the time on my old Ahndspring, and a while ago when I upgraded to a Zaurus, I kept right on reading them. I've been an avid reader since early childhood, and am often reading several books at once. Carrying several paperbakcs in my bags all the time tended to create some serious wear and tear on the books after a short while.. the bookmarks would fall out of step if I bounced my bag a bit to much (which happened a lot during my college years), and I generally found paperbacks to be somewhat inconvenient.

    Enter the e-book. Now I carry a whole reference library (Dictionary, thesaurus, etc.), plus 5-7 random SF, Fantasy, and other novels and books, all in one pocket, in my Zaurus' CF card. When the urge to read strikes, I just hit a button to turn it on (instant bootup PDA), and within seconds I can choose any one of the books I'm reading, and they pick up exactly where I left off (qtreader is great), I can have multiple bookmarks, and I can search those books that need searching. Reading is comfortable and easy with the Zaurus' high-contrast screen (and I use glasses with a fairly high (-7) level of miopia, but I still find it easy to read and adjust the font size while still fitting ina couple of paragraphs of text on a screen), and if I don't want to keep hitting the 'down' button to flip pages, I can set it to a comfortable level ofauto-scroll and just lay back and let the text wash over my eyes.

    In short, I love e-books, and I'm exactly the sort of person ebook publishers should be trying to target. However, the vast majority of e-books I have, I will admit, are pirated. I do have paper copies of a lot of the books in my e-book collection, but e-books are so much more convenient for me than regular books, that I'd rather have an electronic version than a paper one. And for the most part, most books I want to read are simply not released in e-book formats. I *want* to have e-book versions of the books I own. However, due to the small availability and constant format/DRM wars, there are very few places online where I can buy an e-book in a format that I can read on my Zaurus. Meanwhile, the folks in newsgroups and several places online are busy scanning and typing in hundreds of thousands of books and putting them online for free.

    To e-book publishers: while you wrangle and try to find a way to lock down the user and make 'sure' that no one pirates your e-books or gives them away or lends them or does anything out of your control, there's a whole bunch of folks out there happily scanning the paper editions of your books and putting them online for free in simple, unlocked formats. While you continue to deny those of us who *Want* e-books the freedom to choose what platform we want to read on and what we want to do with our books, these people will continue to provide your product for free without your permission. Make books available in electronic formats, formats that are compatible across all platforms, with a minimum of hassle and DRM, and give them away free with the paper edition of the books, or sell them at a substantially reduced price from the paper edition (face it, they cost a lot less to produce in e-book format, and I can't help but laugh whenever I see an e-book version of a book selling for as much, or sometimes more, than the paper version), and let me choose what I do with my books, and you will have an eager customer for life.
    • No, it's not just you! I'm 100% with you here. My Psion currently has about 74MB of compressed text files (mostly novels and short stories, with some tech stuff and some religious stuff). Most of my reading is now from there instead of dead trees (with the major exception of loo reading!). I don't have to remember to take a book with me, or mess around with bookmarks, &c. I don't even have to turn the light on to read in bed. I find the Psion's screen easy enough to read from, and once I get into
  • by Florian ( 2471 ) <> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:46PM (#7788878) Homepage
    Instead of re-inventing the wheel, people should just pick the TEI [] (respectively TEI Lite) SGML/XML DTD of the Text Encoding Initiatve.

    For those who haven't heard of it yet: TEI is an open SGML/XML format created for electronic editions of literary texts. It is as comprehensive and well-designed for text philology as DocBook is for technical documentation. The only drawback is that it is, like DocBook, very comprehensive and accurate in its markup tags (fulfilling all needs of academic editions of historical texts), so that for average readers, the trimmed-down TEI Lite DTD should do the job.

    For e-literature collections created by professional philologists - such as the Victorian Women Writers Project [], TEI already is the standard text format. Thanks to the SGML/XML toolchain, TEI sourcecode can, like DocBook, of course be painlessly transformed into HTML, txt, RTF, PDF etc. (TEI is, btw., also being mentioned in Eric S. Raymond's quite useful DocBook Demystification HOWTO [].)


    (philologist by profession)

  • One word: Baen (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:48PM (#7788895)
    Baen Books ( has been giving away e-books of early titles in popular author's series for some time. They've even been putting them on CDs in major new books. The result has been increased sales of the dead tree versions of those same books, plus increased interest in the current and new versions.

    No DRM, no passwords, no encryption. You just can't turn around and sell it.

    That basically says one thing to me: people really don't want the e-book version of something they read for pleasure. They prefer the dead tree version. When the rest of the publishers wake up and discover that the e-book is a marketing tool rather than a profit center, all this idiocy about multiple versions and DRM will vanish.

    John Roth
    • Bumped into Alexei Panshin's site, and was quite excited to see that he had ebook versions of the Anthony Villiers novels (good, entertaining, literate stuff; Masque World has a nifty in-joke if you happen to know the neighborhood around the Brooklyn end of the Brooklyn Bridge). All in Microsoft Reader format and ONLY Microsoft Reader format. What the HELL was the point of doing it that way?!?

      Damn shame, because any HTML file + iSilo and a Palm with a storage card absolutely rock.

  • Red Herring (Score:4, Informative)

    by logicnazi ( 169418 ) <> on Monday December 22, 2003 @04:57PM (#7788987) Homepage
    This issue of eBOOK compatibility seems to be a red hearing to me. I purchase ebooks for my palm devices (now a treo 600) fairly regularly and only once have I run into a book I wanted that was not availible in a compatible format (and the contents of that book...short stories..were availible in a compatible version).

    Not only do most books come in multiple formats so do most readers on mobile devices (no one is going to read an ebook on their PC...well some freak on slashdot might but except for computer related manuals it just isn't as practical or enjoyable as with something mobile). Furthermore many readers are distributed freely. I simply can't see how this is blocking sales.

    Also almost every ebook currently on the market doesn't use many complicated formatting options requiring any innovative format. This isn't do to lack of a standart but because most normal books don't contain many illustrations and palm pilot devices are the best for pictoral information.

    Still, I do support the attempt at a universal open format. However, as the stated goal of eBOOK formats is to *prevent* copying I won't be able to share ebooks with a friend anyway so it is at most a minor convience.
  • I have a PocketPC and I use it for reading ebooks all the time. But I would jump on a purpose-built ebook reader that allowed me to use my text, html and pdb files.

    All it really needs is:

    - Big greyscale screen
    - SD and CF card slots
    - Backlight
    - fat rechargeable battery
    - a few hard buttons on the front and sides
    - Software that can display text, .pdb compressed text, HTML, RTF. Maybe, if you got crazy, you could put a plugin for another format on the SD card.
    - Give it a few fonts and landscape/portrait optio
  • Largely because of the proprietary format wars, ebooks have flopped commercially...

    Say what? Sure, there are too many formats, but I've never had any trouble finding software to read all the formats available. What has mostly kept me from buying ebooks is the price. Typically, they cost more than the traditional hardcopy version! Obviously this isn't a publication or distribution cost issue, since these costs are very low for ebooks. One can only infer that publishers don't like ebooks, and are doing as l

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Monday December 22, 2003 @06:46PM (#7790075) Homepage
    Largely because of the proprietary format wars, ebooks have flopped commercially
    No. eBooks have flopped commercially because they simply are not as usable or convenient as the real thing, period. Waving the 'closed format' flag is nothing more than an attempt to divert attention from the fact that eBooks are a solution in search of a problem.
    • Maybe you don't find them usable or convenient. I find it very handy to have a bunch of ebooks on my PDA that I can read whenever I'm waiting in line, have a free moment, or whatever. And while physical books do have their advantages, none have the searching and bookmarking ability you can get with good ebook software.

      I do agree that the format issue is bogus. I don't know of any format that isn't widely supported. The only market this might affect is the one for dedicated ebook devices. Which probably ne

  • There is no ASCII (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @07:53PM (#7790643) Homepage Journal
    You're out of date.

    Nobody actually uses ASCII any more. It's not adquate for internationalizable applications. It only contains a simple non-accented Latin alphabet, arabic numerals, space, and 33 other characters. Oh, and 33 non-graphic control characters, only 2 of which are relatively safe to use in text files and streams. That's just not enough for any application that isn't specific to the U.S.

    You say you use ASCII every day? No you don't. You probably use some variation of Latin 1 [] and/or UTF-8 []. Both have the same values as ASCII for their first 127 characters, so the difference is usually transparent. Not always.

    Now you're saying, "All right, ASCII, Latin 1, whatever. What I mean is plain text. That's the universal format." No it's not. There isn't even a single Latin 1. Aside from ISO Latin 1 (which is supposed to be the default for web pages, but no widely-used browser makes that assumption), there's Microsoft Latin 1 [] and Macintosh Latin []. Add in UTF-8 (which Slashdot supposedly uses, though most of their pages actually use ISO Latin1), and you have four different "plain text" encodings in wide use. The results when files are shared between these platforms are often pretty gross. And these are just the encodings used in the Americas and Western Europe!

    Even if there was a text encoding that absolutely everybody used, you wouldn't want to store all your books in it. You're throwing away too much data! That's why I gave up on Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders []. When I downloaded a Gutenberg text, things like italics and boldface all appeared at ALLCAPS. VERY VERY IRRITATING! And when I helped proof DP's text scans, I wasn't given any proper way to enter to record all the subtle typography that was in those old texts. One particular omission was the absence of any clear separation between encylopedia articles. I found this particularly frustrating, because I joined DP to help bring the classic Britannica 11th Edition [] online. What's the point if you can't browse individual articles easily, or the Greek words are a mess, etc., etc.

    What's the solution? Not HTML -- it's not general enough. Somebody needs to sit down and design a markup (probably an XML document type) that expresses the stuff you find in various kinds of books. I doubt of if this "Open EBook" thing will do, because it will have very narrow objectives -- find a way to distribute the next Steven King with proper DRM support. Not interesting to those of us who want to share a lot of public domain and Creative Commons [] stuff, and are mainly concerned with preserving the original character of the text. Maybe when I know more about writing DTDs and Schemas, I'll take a stab.

    But doesn't that create files that aren't accesible to a lot of people? No, because you don't distribute the XML version isn't for distribution (except to those who really want it). Mostly you transform the XML into formats suitable for distribution: HTML, WML, ebook formats, and yes, "plain text".

  • + zTXT coverter + Project Gutenburg + Old palm pilot = perfect ebook reading. I've read dozens of books on this thing, and when I'm bored I can fire up any number of distracting little games. I use a m125 and my batteries(NiMH) need charging after about 4-5 days of use with the backlight going often.
  • ...the pointed quote from the Teleread blog: "The Forum under earlier leadership came up with valuable production-level standards." OEBPS isn't broken. And it isn't bad. And, yes, as one of the authors of it, I'm quite biased. But it's worth noting that the organization produced good work, before it got made into a slave. A slave to the marketing needs of the organizations that nearly killed it in the first place (Adobe and Overdrive Systems). I suspect that nothing so drastic as dismantling the OEBF is

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel