It's hard to miss the current media frenzy over ebooks and ebook readers. With one product announcement after the other, the market seems more complex by the day-diverse devices, multiple formats and platforms, standards, graphic requirements, etc. Publishers are struggling with the technical requirements for making their content widely accessible via the new ebook devices, as well as on smartphones and PCs. This week, a company that specializes in digital publishing solutions and data conversion is introducing a new high-volume, ebook production platform that should take some of the stress out of the process. Aptara (www.aptaracorp.com) has developed eGen, a web-based technology for converting high volumes of content into the EPUB format for distribution to multiple ebook readers. The company says that eGen produces ebook-ready content faster and at a far lower cost than other available methods. eGen will be unveiled at the Online Information 2009 conference in London, Dec. 1-3.
"Publishers the world over are struggling with the technical complexities and content conversion challenges presented by the myriad of eReader devices now flooding the market," says Bill Trippe, vice president and lead analyst at the Gilbane Group. "New technologies such as eGen are greatly simplifying the equation. The Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, Apple iPhone, and other established devices are being joined by a variety of new devices, including the Barnes & Noble nook. This rapidly developing market needs innovations to address the growing demand for high-quality, flexible conversion solutions that make publishers' content more accessible."
eGen automatically converts XML source content to an EPUB package for display on ebook readers. EPUB (electronic publication) is a free and open ebook standard managed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF; www.idpf.org). It is becoming the most pervasive standard as more device vendors and publishers commit to supporting it. EPUB is designed for "reflowable" content, meaning the display is optimized for the particular display device. In addition to standard text, eGen also automatically converts text, tables, graphics, and math, and it retains all of the links present in the source files.
"What sets eGen apart from other conversion methods is its ability to transform complex books that include illustrations, pictures, formulas, graphs, and sophisticated style sheets-eliminating most of the manual intervention typically required to assure high-quality output," said Dev Ganesan, president and CEO of Aptara. "With faster time-to-market and consistent quality output, eGen makes ebook market entry more accessible and affordable than ever before for publishers with large and diverse content portfolios."
There's another benefit for consumers-EPUB files can be read on computers using Adobe Digital Editions, which is a free download available at www.adobe.com/products/digitaleditions/#download. There are also free converters for transforming EPUB into device-specific formats. With the Barnes & Noble and Sony devices already supporting the EPUB format, Ganesan thinks the standard is gaining momentum. Amazon has not yet added support-its Kindle uses Mobipocket. But he says users can convert EPUB to Mobipocket.
Ganesan says that Aptara has been in the business of helping publishers with production for 15 years, starting with STM publishers, moving into the education space, and now working with trade publishers, such as Random House. But, he stresses, with XML content, everyone is a potential publisher. "It's not just the B to C [business-to-consumer] market; it's B to B. Even large corporations want to deliver their business content-financial statements, contracts, etc.-in a cost-effective manner to various devices."
In an article published in the online newsletter Publishing Perspectives, Ganesan makes his views clear on the potential for this market: "Today, nearly every organization is a publisher, whether they sell books, tractors, space shuttles, medical devices, smart phones, or pharmaceuticals. This is equally true for the service industries. Universities, consulting firms, healthcare providers, real estate agencies, translation shops-just about anyone who does anything is a publisher, and now needs to be adept at digital publishing too." He says the ebook medium is "an ultra convenient, flexible, device-agnostic format for providing information to customers, prospects, employees, partners, and shareholders."
In a recent webinar titled "eBook Readers and Standards ... Where to Next?" Forrester ebook market analyst Sarah R. Epps said that e-reader devices will catalyze the demand for ebooks. Forrester is now predicting sales of 3 million devices in 2009, with cumulative sales in the U.S. of 10 million by the end of 2010. She reported on new research from a survey that shows increasing consumer interest in reading ebooks across devices. This is good news for publishers and she advises they should stay device agnostic. As for the EPUB standard, webinar presenter Michael Smith of the IDPF said it's not a matter of if for EPUB, it's how fast it will become the dominant and preferred format.
Aptara's expertise includes ebook production, content conversion, custom content development, editorial and design services, and content technology solutions. Founded in 1988, Aptara is a U.S.-based company with more than 3,700 employees. The company has more than 500 global customers in the following markets: trade and consumer publishing (Harper Collins and Penguin Books), professional publishing (Cambridge University Press, Taylor and Francis, and Wiley-Blackwell), educational publishing (McGraw Hill Higher Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Pearson Education), library and reference (ProQuest, Reed Elsevier, H.W. Wilson, and NewsBank), and global 1,000 enterprises (American Express, Microsoft, and Motorola).
For More Information
eGen Data Sheet, http://aptaracorp.com/images/pdf/eGen_DataSheet.pdf
eGen FAQ, http://aptaracorp.com/images/pdf/eGen_FAQ.pdf
"Is B2B the Real Market for E-Books?" http://publishingperspectives.com/?p=8119