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Technology Update:

The Tech Blender: Part 2

by Mark Bright


As promised, this month we are going to talk about electronic books and the “tech blender” that is merging the e-reader/tablet/phone/computer world together.

A word on tablets—right now there is only one real tablet in the world and that is the iPad, and it is not suitable for ex-tended reading sessions as it is too big to hold with one hand and its weight is fatiguing.

There is an urban legend that when Ma Bell was trying to address the need for pay phones, but trying to figure out how to shorten the use time so they wouldn’t need to install a bunch of additional pay phones, they settled on making the hand sets very heavy and thereby fatigue the user so much that they would self determine to get off the phone sooner, even though they would not link that decision to the weight of the hand set. That is, in effect, what it is like to read with an iPad, unless you have a table to rest it on.

There are many different formats of electronic publishing, but we are going to focus on the two most prominent ones and how they relate to your decision on which provider to go with.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

The first thing we need to talk about is “Digital Rights Management,” or DRM for short. All of the major ebook sellers have this protection on the majority—if not all—of their sold content. As a result there are challenges to using your electronic content on multiple devices. Most of these sellers have adopted a version of Apple’s “Fare Share” model, which allows one to authorize a limited amount of devices and have a copy of the same electronic content on several devices at the same time.

For example, I can purchase an ebook and have it on my phone, computer, table, and e-reader at the same time, but I cannot email that book to a friend because he is not authorized through the provider’s store.

There are two interesting exceptions to this. Amazon is introducing book sharing this year, where I can share a book with a friend for a week. After the week is over they will not be able to access the content, but they will be asked if they would like to purchase the book for themselves.

Also, Sony is working with public libraries, where you can take your Sony e-Reader in and check out electronic books for a week or two. As far as I know they were beta testing this in New York area libraries and nowhere else at the moment.

e-Reader Formats

The two major formats used in electronic publishing are .epub and .azw.—.epub is used by Barnes and Noble, Sony, Apple, Google and practically everyone else. The .azw format is proprietary to Amazon. It is not open for outside users and there are no plans to do so.

While all the other competitors use the .epub format, it does not translate into sharable or transferable content. Sony, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google and the others use their own “flavor” of DRM that makes the books tied to their format and specific store. So, what this translates to, in reality, is that we have a half-dozen formats to choose from.

Amazon and Sony

Amazon was the first major player to open up this market, followed closely by Sony. Amazon, while offering both hard-ware and ebooks, made the decision early not to tie their con-tent to the purchasing of their hardware, a decision that Sony—I am sad to say—has not followed and which immediately takes them out of the running. So cross off the Sony e-Reader format from your list.

You can now get an Amazon Kindle app on almost every-thing out there. I have it on my iPhone, iPad, Droid phone and I had it on my Samsung Galaxy tablet when I was demoing it. As a result, I can read my books on almost any hardware I want. Amazon also has a feature called “Whisper Sync” that talks to all these devices and knows where I left off and takes me to that page. For example, if I am waiting for a friend and read five pages of Father Fiction on my phone and then later that night pick up my Kindle to read at home, my Kindle knows where I left off on my phone and asks me if I want to turn to that page!

Because Amazon was one of the first into this game and book purchasing is the core of their business model, they have really refined their format. Highlighting, note taking, temporary book sharing, and the option to read popular sections of the book based on reader highlights make it one of the con-tenders.

Apple iBooks

With Sony dead and Amazon in the final round, let’s talk about Apple. I have to tell you that each time I begin to write about an Apple product, I have to prepare for some of the most interesting email comments. That is, unless I just want to limit my review to positive comments. So once again, Apple fans, I am writing this article on my MacBook Pro; I will be checking my email on my iPhone, and later today I will upload some photos of the kids onto my iMac that sits in my living room. I like Apple products, OK?

Then let’s get to it. Apple’s iBook is currently out of the running because Apple does not allow their digital content on any-thing other than Apple hardware. I cannot read an iBook on my Droid phone or Windows phone or Droid-based tablet. Apple may in the future allow for this, but at this time they do not, so unless you can see into the future and have determine that you will never purchase anything that does not have the Apple name on it, you are going to be limited and I do not like to be told how and with what I device I can use content that I have purchased.

I hope that Apple does open up their formats through an app or by removing DRM altogether. It would be extremely convenient to have all of my digital content in one place with one store to purchase and download from, but the limitation is too great at this time.

Barnes & Noble

I mentioned core business model when I was talking about Amazon, and there is one company out there whose book sales don’t get any more “core” and that is Barnes & Noble. I have not had a chance to play in this ecosystem a whole lot at this time, but I have downloaded the Nook reader software to my iPhone and Droid and I am in the process of reviewing the new Color Nook e-reader hardware. Barnes & Noble has followed suit with Amazon and is making their books readable on everything they can.

Barnes & Noble is also currently working directly with publishing houses to determine how they can make the most out of the digital format. They are “blending” multimedia and inter-action into the children’s book format at the moment, but it won’t be long until we see links to video files and additional content within the pages of all our digital books, making consumption of information an entirely new and blended experience.

I am sure it will not be long before we see all the players jumping in on this, and with the newest version of Adobe Dis-tiller and Publisher having an .epub “save as” option, it won’t be long before the multimedia content is embedded into the “book” itself. I like the Barnes & Noble model and being that books are their raison d’etre, they too make it into the finals.

Google Books

Google is the new kid on the block when it comes to the selling of books, but not with regards to electronic books as a whole. Google launched a project to bring all the public domain books in the world into the electronic age. Public domain con-tent is free and can be given out ad infinitum.

Google has scanned, page by page, over 500,000 books and is continuing to add to that number. Google uses the .epub for-mat and makes no e-reader hardware at all. I have the “Google Book” software installed on my iPhone, iPad and Droid phone. Google likes the open platform model and will continue to make their books available on every device they can.

We do get into a little bit of a weird crossover market with Google selling books as they now are competing with some of the advertisers (like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple) that do business with them.

The decision that Real Network, the makers of Real Audio, made to try to become content providers instead of just the bridge for content proved to be their downfall. That will not happen to Google, but Google could slow down implementation or back off if they believe it will cause their core business (ad sales) to suffer and book sales is just a bolt-on to Google, not a core business model. Because if this, I would not recommend Google Book at this time.

The Final Two

So we are left with two: Amazon vs. Barnes & Noble. I believe that either one of these formats would make a good choice. Barnes & Noble does not have the “Whisper Sync” ability that Amazon has, and now that Amazon is offering a lot of the public domain books that they did not before, I believe they have the upper hand.

The staff and I have been keeping an eye on the e-reader formats and waiting to see how they would shake out before we decided what direction we would go. We are planning on releasing our books through Amazon and all the .epub formats once we have digitized and formatted the books for optimal use. You can currently get Learn The Bible in 24 Hours and Prophecy 20/20 on the Kindle.

Here’s to good reading!


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