A Tale of Two Industries
Stephen King is an author for whom imagination is everything. But when banking on a risky e-publishing venture recently, the honor system didn't pan out for the bestseller. The idea was that readers would log online to sample a newly released series of his fictional installments in a pay-as-you-go format. The trouble is that with no security measures in place, it was easy to download King's latest book for free. The effect signals that King, plus a large, established fan-base, does not equal a successful online book launch. And now, the experiment has left the entire publishing community asking a resounding, "Huh?"
In the name of progress
In order for an online publishing venture to be a success, there are two variables to consider. First, there are significant technological barriers that must be diminished before consumers will support digital publishing. And second, it will take an orchestrated effort on behalf of every sector of the publishing industry to standardized the technology.
Poised to become a leading force in establishing and expanding the digital publishing market, the entire publishing industry is banking on high-resolution, text-based digital content to be widely distributed to mainstream users. The proactive mainstreaming to business and consumer users is part of a much larger plan to enforce strict copyright protection of digital material.
In the digital age, the protection of intellectual property is of great concern. It's violation is perceived as one of the greatest threats to the publishing industry, reinforced after witnessing legal showdowns among Napster, Mp3.com, musicians and the recording industry. With the technological stage set for e-books and digital publishing, the industry has cause to take a thoughtful approach while entering this new era.
The industry must prepare for legal cases that will follow a heady period of technological adjustment. For example, Contentville.com, launched by Brill's Content, posts articles written by professional writers for resale. Authors recently found their stories for sale on the site without consent or compensation. A similar legal battle is being fought concerning royalties at Lexis-Nexus.
Similarly, copiers and desktop computers have also led to making piracy simple, convenient and acceptable within not only consumer markets, but also the workplace. Copyright infringement has become an acceptable practice in many cases. Research reports and other expensive-to-produce collateral are often photocopied and distributed to groups outside of the registered user base.
To prevent this unauthorized duplication from cannibalizing the online publishing industry, companies are arming themselves with digital rights management software and are setting up legal distribution channels.
The bright side
Because advances in technology are continuing to grow at an exponential pace, consumers will have more enriched opportunities. In the near future, downloading a copy of a lengthy novel such as War and Peace to a handheld device at the top of Mount Everest will not be such a burdensome task, although reading it there might be! The improvement in storage capacity, micro-processing and access technologies goes hand-in-hand with a decrease in production and purchase costs. Ultimately, e-books will be accessible via affordable and pervasive Internet-enabled devices such as cell phones, Palm Pilots or even airport kiosks.
Companies profiting from the sale of content online will unlock new revenue streams by charging users either per order, per subscription or even time-limit per use. And authors, for example, such as King, will be able to adopt additional formats, such as serialization, which promises to have greater success online than in print. In addition, writers will be able to release shorter texts that are more suitable for e-book readers. Overall, the flexibility that digital rights technology offers will change the business of publishing at the core, simply by expanding the options available to authors and businesses alike.
Getting over the hump
But before standardization happens, readers must first favor reading content in portable digital format. While the music and video industries engineer new high-quality formats every few years, the publishing industry has remained relatively static. Because materials have always relied on paper, the resistance to the new media is high. The first adopters will no doubt be those who are interested more in the novelty of the device than in the functionality. Therefore to gain full consumer backing, e-book devices must be highly innovative while still providing the conventions and comfort of traditional paper books.
To achieve this goal, publishers will have to build-in some extremely compelling value-added services to the market. A user will perhaps have more choices or search capabilities. Bundling of wireless access will differentiate digitally published materials from hard copy relatives. If the industry can successfully integrate these accessories for published materials, digital publishing will have a good chance of succeeding in the consumer market.
To ensure profitability and success in the digital publishing industry, publishers, authors, e-tailers, retailers, software and hardware providers must continue to work together to incorporate standards that allow for flexible business models and rely on the experience and expertise of each industry, whether traditional or digital publishing. Protection of content relies on professional outreach and education, ensuring that intellectual property will continue to be preserved and valued within every domain.
Patrick Campbell is the CEO of New York City-based Magex .