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The E-Books Evangelist - Interview with Glenn Sanders

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  • Sam Vaknin
    The edited version of this article was published by United Press International (UPI): http://www.upi.com It is also published on these web sites:
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 26, 2002
      The edited version of this article was published by United Press
      International (UPI):


      It is also published on these web sites:






      Feel free to forward this article INCLUDING ALL THE WEB SITES ABOVE.

      To reprint - kindly write to: palma@...

      The E-Books Evangelist - Interview with Glenn Sanders

      Sam Vaknin

      UPI Senior Business Correspondent

      Skopje, Macedonia

      Q. Why electronic publishing?

      A. I was first introduced to electronic publishing on the Internet in the
      late 1980s and became intrigued by the power of this revolutionary
      development. Then, when Mosaic released the first Web browser in 1992, the
      Internet finally had a visual aspect. Suddenly, the vast Internet was
      transformed from a dimly lit warehouse for data storage and exchange, to a
      visible library and gallery for information. I was hooked.

      In 1994, while teaching at a university in Japan, I created what was
      probably one of the first (if not the first) paperless reading classes. I
      taught myself HTML and built 26 Web-based reading lessons for the
      "comparative cultures" course I taught there. The reading material in each
      lesson linked to related websites and information. Instructions were
      included for the exercises, which usually included finding information or
      doing research somewhere on the Web. Students emailed their results to me,
      and I emailed feedback and grades to them. Students were not required to
      come to class, but were required to turn in their "class work" results to me
      by Friday evening.

      Since then, I have created numerous Web sites, published a number of
      electronic & print books, and hundreds of articles. In the late 1990's I saw
      the confluence of three factors that foretold the electronic publishing and
      e-book revolution. The first was the imminent ubiquity of the Internet.
      Next, was the growing need for mobile access to information, and the
      availability of so much data in the digital domain.

      Finally, I could see the day when technology would catch up with my vision
      of a portable information tablet. As of summer 2002, I am still waiting, but
      technological developments are rapidly nearing the time, probably somewhere
      around 2005, when affordable, portable, readable, wireless reading devices
      will reach the mass markets. The company where I work, Rolltronics
      Corporation, is developing thin, flexible electronics technology that will
      enable many of these devices in the future.

      While living in Japan and working at Fujitsu, Inc., I founded eBookNet and
      began toying with the design of a next-generation information display
      device. In 1998, I founded eBookNet.com, which became a renowned Web site
      that provided news and community services for the e-book and e-publishing
      industry for several years.

      In 1999, NuvoMedia (the company that pioneered the current generation of
      electronic reading devices with its "Rocket eBook" in 1998) acquired
      eBookNet and hired me. NuvoMedia supported eBookNet until April 2001.

      A few months later, with the support of the Rolltronics Foundation, Wade
      Roush (former managing editor of eBookNet) and I founded the Electronic
      Publishing Resource Center (EPRC), an industry-sponsored, non-profit
      organization, and launched eBookWeb.org on the 4th of July 2001.

      I see myself as an e-book evangelist, seeking to inform and educate the
      world about electronic publishing. My vision is of a world where
      information, entertainment, and books are readily available to
      professionals, researchers, students, and readers everywhere. So, even
      though I work full time for Rolltronics doing business development, I
      continue my daily efforts to help build the e-Book industry through
      eBookWeb.org. The Website now leads in providing news, information,
      resources, and community services to the e-media industries.

      Q. This has been a bad year for e-publishing. Leading brands vanished,
      industry leaders retreated, technology gurus bemoaned yet another missed
      prognosis - that e-books will dethrone print books. What went wrong?

      A. Ever since I first realized the need for portable information devices, my
      belief in the future of e-books has never been shaken. Despite the fact that
      e-book reality replaced hype in 2000, and 2001 brought a temporary cyclical
      economic downturn, I firmly believe and know that e-books and e-publishing,
      or more generally portable information devices, will play a primary role in
      the way that people write, create, design, read, learn, access news and
      information, communicate, interact, travel, enjoy art and entertainment, and
      experience their world.

      It is just taking longer to get there than many had hoped around the turn of
      the century. There are still several factors that need to come together to
      make e-books a reality. The hardware is still not there. We need affordable,
      light, thin, readable displays with battery life measured in days or weeks,
      not hours. To be truly useful and portable, the devices need to be wireless
      and perhaps with a backup cellular connection for remote locales. Next,
      there needs to be much more content available for distribution to these
      devices. Secure but accessible infrastructure and standards need to be in
      place for mass-market appeal. Then, adoption by libraries and educational
      institutions will spread the use of e-books at the grassroots level.

      Q. Questions of device compatibility and standards have plagued the industry
      from its inception. Will we end up with an oligopoly of 2-3 formats and 2-3
      corresponding readers, or do you have a different take on the industry's

      A. We may be destined to have several formats and platforms, each of which
      is used for certain applications and types of content. The reason is that
      there are basically four major players, each with their own plan to dominate
      the e-Publishing market.

      Despite the fact that, in my opinion, Adobe's PDF is lacking as an e-Book
      format, there are hundreds of millions of documents in PDF in publishing
      companies, governments, corporations, and schools. These will not be
      replaced instantly, even if a unified format were agreed upon.

      Then there is Microsoft, the 800-pound gorilla, who is slowly and silently
      insinuating their reading platform into their software and Windows operating
      system. The interoperability of MS Reader software with MS Office products
      will make it possible for many millions of documents to be converted to MS
      Reader format.

      Of course, there will need to be a portable device to display all those
      e-documents. Despite the fact that many Pocket PCs have been sold, they
      don't seem to be a major factor in e-content sales. Now the timing of
      Microsoft's big push for the MS tablet PC begins to make more sense.

      The Gemstar format has an established base of customers and actual dedicated
      devices, the Rocket eBook and REB1100 and REB1200s. Gemstar's format
      actually has a lot of popular content going for it, and their displays are
      much better than the average computer display. Therefore they are more
      suitable for portable reading.

      And not surprisingly, the largest sales of electronic content are going to
      the Palm Pilot compatible devices. The established base of many millions of
      "Palm OS" customers has been buying hundreds of thousands of e-books each
      year, and the e-content sales are growing steadily.

      How to unify these four goliaths? The Open eBook Forum's standard is good
      for the formatting of the original document. Microsoft and Gemstar adhere
      to the OeBF standard. But each company has its own way of converting and
      displaying the OeBF format in its device or software. So what is the
      answer? The only way to rectify all of these heavyweight solutions is to
      create a unified standard for displaying electronic content that is the same
      across all platforms. Is this possible? That is a question better answered
      by the experts at the OeBF...

      Q. Some analysts blame the recent bloodbath on a dearth of good content and
      wrong pricing. They derisively equate e-publishing with vanity publishing.
      Do you find these criticisms correct?

      A. The amount of content is growing slowly but steadily. There are two
      major problems that contribute to the relative dearth of titles becoming
      available. One is that extra negotiations and agreements are necessary to
      publish e-books, or to price them differently from "p-books." Another is
      that since the market still isn't there, many publishers do not have the
      resources, or haven't budgeted enough money to aggressively convert content.
      And many veteran publishers still produce the final version of a book in a
      format that is not easy to convert for electronic publication.

      As far as vanity publishing goes, that is not defined by the medium. Of
      course electronic publishing makes it easier to distribute
      "vanity-published" works. And it is easier to become self-published. And
      there are a few vanity publishers out there, but they usually don't last
      long. Still, most publishers and electronic publishers strive to produce top
      quality titles. They know that this is the only long-term viable business
      model. They screen and edit the titles that they publish. They actively
      promote their authors' works. In this sense, a publisher's name brand will
      become much more important to customers than is presently the case.

      Q. Traditional print publishers treat e-books (the content, not the devices)
      as electronic facsimiles of the print editions. Can e-books offer a
      different reading experience? In what way are they different to print books?

      A. E-books that are nothing more than electronic copies of the print version
      offer only portability and access as advantages. Of course e-books can be
      searched and annotated. The vision impaired can read with large fonts.
      Students can look up words in a built-in dictionary.

      But, similar to popular movie DVDs that include many extras, e-books should
      really take advantage of the flexibility and capacity of the electronic
      medium. Publishers could include the author's notes, rough sketches,
      background, audio or video from the author or the scene of the books.
      Reference works should be electronically updateable via the Internet. Book
      club members might be able to send each other their annotations and
      comments. Readers might send feedback to the author and/or publisher. Fans
      might write and distribute alternate endings, or add characters or scenes.

      Q. E-publishing is at the nexus of sea changes in copyright laws. Does
      e-publishing encourage piracy? Have publishers gone overboard in an effort
      to preserve their intellectual property rights? Do you foresee new models of
      revenues and royalties and a novel definition of intellectual property?

      A. E-publishing does not encourage piracy, but being in electronic format,
      it certainly becomes susceptible to the same kind of piracy that all other
      kinds of e-content experience. A number of models, or rather experiments,
      are being tried with respect to the level of control of intellectual
      property and the associated financial model. So far, there has not been a
      clear answer as to which experiment yields the best results.

      One factor is that the market is still in its infancy and therefore is in a
      state of flux. The continuum runs from strict and limited control offered by
      digital rights management systems, to free e-content (hopefully) supported
      by either stimulating sales of print books, or advertisements. In the middle
      are publishers who provide limited security, or those who use no security
      and depend on the basic honesty of most people. As the market grows, we will
      discover which models work best in which situations for which types of

      Q. E-books were supposed to bring about disintermediation and foster a
      direct dialog between author and readership. Have they succeeded? What is
      the future of content brokers, such as publishers and record companies?

      A. Yes, there is an enhanced dialog between author and audience. On
      eBookWeb.org, we provide space for authors to have a personal page. These
      are some of the most popular pages on the site. On other Websites and
      through the publications themselves, authors are coming in closer digital
      contact with their readers through email or other forms of dialog. For low
      volumes of messages, this is a good thing. But top-selling writers could not
      handle email from thousands of dedicated fans. Even in an electronic world,
      it is still true that as one becomes more popular, one has to become less
      and less accessible in order to conserve one's time.

      Yes, it is also much easier to become self-published electronically.
      However, there is usually a huge difference between simply being published,
      and actually reaching a large audience and reaping significant sales of your
      title. The Web continues to grow exponentially, but our time and attention
      span remain limited. These two opposing dynamics mean that we are forced to
      narrow our attention to a relatively few reliable content providers,
      representing an ever smaller proportion of the total content available.

      How can an author be heard above the noise? Get a publisher who will promote
      your work. But before that, get an editor or publisher who will help you
      polish your work until it shines brightly enough to gain popularity once it
      secures the attention of your audience. The dynamics and demands of the free
      market, and the reasons for having publishing companies do not disappear on
      the Internet. In fact, they may become more important as the amount of
      content and choices continues to grow.

      One important change that I do foresee is that small, independent niche
      publishers will make a resurgence due to the electronic medium. This is
      definitely a good thing for readers. Independent publishers who build a
      reputation for unique, quality content, will develop a following of faithful
      customers over time.

      Q. Some marketing pundits believe in viral or buzz marketing. They advocate
      giving away free content to generate "buzz". They believe that sales will
      follow. Do you subscribe to this view?

      A. This relates to the question of copyright laws and which model is best
      for a particular situation. It also has to do with previous models on the
      Web. If the goal is to gain an audience and fame, then giving it away to
      hopefully millions of people is a good idea. The popular dynamic of the
      Internet is to build a massive audience by giving away something of value.
      Then, one slowly begins to charge for some content or service, while still
      providing something for free, to continue to attract a large following.

      The results of the late 1990s indicate a mixed success, probably due in part
      to the origins of the Internet, where everything was free. The expectation
      was that if it was on the Net, it was free. The beginnings of commercialism
      on the Net in the early 1990's were met with vehement resistance from the
      "old timers" who strongly opposed the commercialization of their beloved
      network. Of course, a number of companies such as eBay, Amazon, and Yahoo,
      attracted and kept a large audience. But only a few are truly profitable

      If the goal is to make maximum profit from each unit of content that is
      downloaded, then one must charge money, or sell advertisements.
      Unfortunately, the revenues from advertising on the Net have fallen
      dramatically in the last few years. So if you put a price tag on your
      content, how much should you charge? Most independent electronic publishers
      charge a few dollars for their titles, anywhere from $1 each to about $5 or
      $7 per e-book. These relatively low prices reflect the desire to attract a
      large pool of customers. They also reflect the belief common among readers
      that since it is electronic and not print content, the price should be
      lower. They feel that without the cost of printing and transporting books,
      the publisher should set a lower price...

      Q. As you see it, is the Internet merely another content distribution
      channel or is there more to it then this? The hype of synergy and collapsing

      barriers to entry has largely evaporated together with the fortunes of the
      likes of AOL Time Warner. Is the Internet a revolution - or barely an

      A. In the beginning, the Internet was a revolution. Email brought the people
      of our Earth closer together. The Net enabled telecommuting and now as much
      as 10% of the world works at home via computer and Internet. The Internet
      makes it possible for artists to publish their own books, music, videos and
      Websites. Video conferencing has enabled conversations without limitations
      of space. The Internet has made vast amounts of information available to
      students and researchers at the click of the mouse. The 24/7 access and ease
      of ordering products has stimulated online commerce and sales at retail

      But it is not a cure-all. And, now that the Net is part of our everyday
      lives, it is subject to the same cycles of media hype, as well as social,
      emotional, and business factors. Things will never be the same, and the
      changes have just begun. The present generation has never known a world
      without computers. When they reach working age, they will be much more
      inclined to use the Net for a majority of their reading and entertainment
      needs. Then, e-books will truly take hold and become ubiquitous. Between now
      and then, we have work to do, building the foundation of this remarkable
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