NewsStand, Inc. (http://www.newsstand.com), an Austin, Texas-based company that has served the digital content delivery needs of magazine and newspaper publishers, is—not surprisingly—moving to service the needs of book publishers. It has established a new division of the company, LibreDigital (http://www.libredigital.com), and launched a new service that allows book publishers to digitally capture and deliver selected book content online. The new LibreDigital Warehouse service is designed to offer book publishers a one-stop shop that simplifies Internet distribution and partner management, while providing secure, controlled portions of online content to help sell their books. Consumers can browse (and eventually search) the contents of books and preview publisher-selected parts of the text and illustrations. HarperCollins Publishers (HC) is the first customer for the new hosted (ASP) service.
LibreDigital stresses the control advantages it offers publishers; it especially hopes it will appeal to publishers that are unhappy with Google's book scanning program with libraries. LibreDigital is currently talking with a number of book publishers and said its service has been "well received." The company hopes to announce additional customers soon. Craig A. Miller, general manager of LibreDigital, said: "The work we're doing today is a big step in helping the industry find a balance between making book content easily accessible, while ensuring that literary copyrights of authors are adequately protected."
The features offered by LibreDigital include content digitization, asset ingest, automated tagging, digital rights management, digital content display, search, and page view control. Miller said that LibreDigital uses the best scanners available today. "And, our post-scanning process is a proprietary system that we developed in-house," he added. While he admitted that Amazon has improved the quality of its Search Inside and Amazon Online Reader recently, he said that LibreDigital offers superior post-processing so that it looks "just like it came from the print."
The Book Browse offered by LibreDigital builds upon the iBrowse capability used for journals and newspapers in NewsStand. The book reader is an Adobe/Macromedia Flash-based tool in the Web browser that has been enhanced with digital rights management (DRM) capabilities. Most PCs already have the Flash plug-in or can easily download it, said Miller.
Publishers using the LibreDigital service can decide exactly what and how much of a title is viewable, and this can be variable for each partner outlet. For example, a title could show certain portions on a publisher's site and different portions on an author's own site or another retailer's site. Publishers also may determine whether print and copy/paste capabilities are permitted.
"The ability for people to easily search an entire book's content and preview chapters online before they buy it, brings the experience of traditional casual book shopping to the Web," said Brian Murray, group president of HarperCollins Publishers. "We believe LibreDigital's service is an important tool for helping our authors, distributors, and independent booksellers better market and sell titles on the Web, while giving us control over the permissions and presentation quality of copyrighted material."
HarperCollins said it sent out an RFP to many vendors and LibreDigital offered the best product/service. HarperCollins has branded its LibreDigital implementation as Browse Inside. The publisher launched it earlier this month and now has about 3,400 titles available with this capability. It eventually plans to offer 10,000 titles. Search capabilities are not currently available but will be added; the product is in beta and will continue to evolve in the coming months.
Consumers can browse starting at the cover and continue to sample the book by paging forward or navigating through the table of contents. Any visitor to http://www.harpercollins.com has access to Browse Inside. The company said that in the future, consumers who register with HarperCollins as members will gain expanded access to the book and exclusive value added content.
When I asked Murray to compare Browse Inside to Amazon's Search Inside (which, indeed, emphasizes its search capabilities), he replied: "Browse Inside is different because we can syndicate the tool to the place that the traffic is. Browse Inside is already available on some author sites—Paulo Coelho, Bernard Cornwell, [and] Lisa Scottoline, for example. We're in discussions with other syndication partners, such as retailers and community sites."
Murray also said that HarperCollins participates in the Google Book Search (GBS) program and has since the beginning. He added, "We are working now with Google on the interface between HC's digital warehouse and GBS." However, Google's digitization program with libraries is another matter entirely, according to Murray. HarperCollins supports the Association of American Publishers' lawsuit against Google, which alleges copyright infringement. (Google maintains that it respects publishers' copyrights because it only reveals snippets of text of a work under copyright.)
LibreDigital stresses that, by giving book publishers a way to control copyrighted content served on the Web, its new technology can help ease the tensions between the book industry and Google. In addition, the new service can help publishers support their booksellers by making it easier to market books online.
While the LibreDigital solution introduces yet another proprietary digital book format, Miller said the company supports the Open eBook format standards (http://www.openebook.com). He stressed that one of the benefits to publishers of having books in the LibreDigital Warehouse is the ability to transition to other formats. And, while he sees the benefits of standards, he admitted that the company makes money when it converts between formats.
NewsStand, Inc. currently provides digital content and delivery solutions for more than 200 magazine and newspaper titles in more than 120 countries. NewsStand is a privately held company headquartered in Austin, Texas, with offices in New York City, Germany, and the U.K. Investors include Adams Capital Management, Noro-Moseley Partners, and the New York Times Co.