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HTML5-Powered E-Readers for the Browser
Posted On November 1, 2010
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Starbucks recently announced the launch of its Starbucks Digital Network, in partnership with Yahoo! The offer of free Wi-Fi in its U.S. stores caught my eye but of greater interest was the free content (some normally subscription-based)—a “collection of hand-picked premium news, entertainment, and lifestyle content along with local insights and events.” But wait, there was even more hidden in the press release—free ebooks from major publishers courtesy of the Bookish Reading Club and New Word City. But here’s the sentence that propelled me to investigate for this article: “A new HTML5 reader, powered by SkyShelf from LibreDigital, allows customers to read books in the browser on their laptops, tablets and many smartphones.”

Hmm, I follow the news from LibreDigital pretty closely and hadn’t seen this announced. So I connected with Frank Lyman, the company’s chief marketing officer, to get the story. It seems that this is indeed the first public appearance of the new reader platform. “This was a good opportunity for us to launch the SkyShelf reader experience at scale and understand how customers like reading on a browser.” Lyman says the company sees this as a real opportunity to expand e-reading options for consumers. The big advantage is consumers don’t have to download an app or a piece of software or have a dedicated e-reading device. They just use a computer, tablet, smartphone, or any device with a supported web browser.

The company reports that currently only one in 10 books purchased is an ebook. LibreDigital believes browser-based readers such as SkyShelf will help to grow the ebook market considerably by making it possible to read on any device that runs a web browser. So to no surprise, LibreDigital plans to launch its own stand-alone SkyShelf marketplace for consumers this fall. The first titles may be available very soon, says Lyman, perhaps even in the next week or so. Sign up for updates at

For the past 10 years, LibreDigital has helped publishers power the marketing and delivery of ebooks to digital devices and marketplaces. In June, LibreDigital acquired the Symtio Ecommerce platform from Zondervan, a HarperCollins company, giving it the team and technology to add an ecommerce component to its business. The company was now positioned to offer a complete end-to-end solution for publishers looking to accelerate their sales of ebooks and digital content. That solution is SkyShelf.

SkyShelf is described as a virtual bookshelf that allows you to buy the ebooks you want and read them instantly. Here’s the description currently posted on the site:

You can read your eBooks whenever you want and we’ll remember the last page you read. You can pick up where you left off even if you’re on a different device.

You can tell your friends or the world about what you’re reading. SkyShelf is better than a book club. SkyShelf is a social reading experience that lets you share your favorites on places like FaceBook and Twitter.

You make it your own at, your personal virtual bookshelf.

You may access your SkyShelf account from devices that can access a supported web browser. SkyShelf does not support Internet Explorer 6 or older versions and does not work on a Kindle.

Lyman stresses the social marketing experience that is designed to expose folks to books via recommendations. For example, you’ll see someone tweet about a book on Twitter or post on Facebook, and with SkyShelf, you’ll be just clicks away from previewing, buying, and reading the book. No need to grab a special device or reader application.

Lyman sees SkyShelf and browser-based reading as a complementary option to other e-reading market segments. Amazon’s Kindle serves one segment well, he says. Blio is good for art books, cookbooks, and other books with many graphics and for consumers willing to download the software. While LibreDigital is currently targeting consumers with a “read now experience,” he says the company is also having discussions with education and scholarly publishers.

Behind the scenes of the new SkyShelf reader is HTML5 technology—said to be the future of the internet. This next generation of HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is starting to make inroads in various websites and services. New features include media playback and interactivity and, most importantly for ebook reading, the ability to store offline data. (For more details, check out this helpful article by Terrence O’Brien, “What Is HTML5, and Why Should You Care?

Other Options

After learning of SkyShelf, I started to dig further and found some other interesting uses of HTML5 technology. Earlier this year, Google Reader introduced support for HTML5-powered videos and audio. The Mashable blog noted that “As HTML5 gains steam, partially due to Apple’s war against Adobe Flash, more and more websites are switching to HTML5 interfaces that work on both the desktop and mobile phones. … [W]hile Google is currently supporting Adobe Flash in the face of Apple’s assault, the reality is that HTML5 is rising as the primary alternative to Flash. Expect to see more and more websites adopt the standard.”

O’Brien also recently tipped me off to a new HTML5 e-reader called Monocle is the open source software powering the reader. You can read books on any device—mobile, portable, tablet, or desktop—that has a modern web browser. You simply need to be connected when initially opening a book and it will be cached for offline reading later.

[Note: Lyman says there is no relationship of with the Bookish Reading Club that is available on the Starbucks Digital Network.]

The Australian company behind is Inventive Labs, which has made a technology preview available, showing off all the recent advances in Monocle and the custom interface on top of it. On the company blog, Joseph Pearson wrote, “The one single platform we expect future e-reading devices to have in common is the web browser. If you want to give your readership the freedom to own (forever) the books they buy from you, the web is where it will happen.”

O’Brien says “ is still relatively young, but it has the potential to be a serious (and seriously interesting) e-book distribution system.”

Over on TeleRead, Jason Davis says, “Forget about eReading apps, folks. I can’t wait for HTML5 to roll out.”

Digging further I found another ebook reading system that I wasn’t familiar with called Ibis Reader from ThreePress Consulting, Inc. This is posted on the site: “When used with an iPhone, iPod Touch or Android 2.0 device, Ibis Reader runs a unique HTML5-based web client that allows offline use and local ebook storage. A traditional web interface is available for all major browsers and most web-capable mobile phones. Books are easily synced between every device the reader uses.”

With all this activity and interest in ebook reading, plus the forthcoming Google Editions (due to launch any day now …), this promises to be a hot area to watch. Lyman says, having Google Editions available will just raise people’s awareness of ebooks. “We believe it will be complementary to SkyShelf.”

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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