Beyond the Page/Adobe Digital Editions

Sarah O'Keefe / ConferencesLeave a Comment

Bill McCoy, General Manager, ePublishing Business, Adobe Systems

The only “products & services” session I’m attending at this conference.

A new platform is always inferior on many dimensions EXCEPT those that matter to the adopters of the new platform. The value proposition of the new platforms typically “competes with non-consumption” (Clayton Christensen).

Examples of other transitions: Automobiles were ridiculed compared to horses because of their limitations — requiring roads and fuel that was hard to find. But automobiles didn’t require care and feeding, provided storage.

File to digital camera: Compatibility with computers was the killer feature. Professional photographers reviled the initial digital options.

Traditional typesetting to desktop publishing: Early on, Adobe was ridiculed for lacking optical kerning. DTP was inferior across the dimension that professionals cared about.

Easier to transport your “digital bookshelf” than to transport the real thing.

A book may not fit in your pocket, but a cell phone or other device does. “It’s better than nothing.”

And…IMMEDIACY. You can get the digital book immediately.

Easy to get e-books into a large-print typeface. (This is the first time I’ve heard this argument. People don’t like to say this in public, but it sounds compelling, actually.)

No Barnes & Nobles, Ingram, or FedEx is available. Shipping costs are astronomical.

Books may be cheap, but e-books are cheaper. And…the green argument again. Less paper being consumed.

Digital media are compelling:

  • Searching, annotating, organizing
  • Sharing with others
  • Rich media and interactivity

Digital publishing at a tipping point?

  • Consumers expect the option of digital content, on-demand.
  • For education market and libraries, digital books are superior.
  • Too many books to carry!
  • Laptops are outselling desktop machines.
  • Mobiles and other mass-market devices are becoming more suitable for reading.


  • Print is driving revenue for most publishers. Print-centric workflows will continue to be a practical reality.
  • Internet is great for distribution, but web is lousy for immersive reading. Can’t assume “always online.” Storage is growing, but bandwidth isn’t.
  • Too much friction in the production, distribution, and consumption of content…format confusion, client software, and DRM hassles.

Adobe wants to enable digital publishing. Advises against waiting for the “iPod of eBooks.” Funny, that’s exactly how Adobe has informally described Digital Editions in the past (“iTunes for documents”). Adobe doesn’t expect to create a single store for e-books.

Standards are essential. PDF is great for paginated content, but not so great for content that needs to reflow. New format is IDPF EPUB based on XHTML, CSS, SVG, and OpenType packaged in a zip-based package.

(This is a great story for us. I wonder how the publishers in the audience feel about it.)

So, what does Adobe have?

  • Adobe Digital Editions
  • Native support for EPUB out of InDesign
  • Hosted content protection service, Adept
  • Light-weight client, simpler than Acrobat Reader
  • Annotations in Digital Editions are stored in an XML add-on, which leaves open the idea of social software down the road
  • “Bookshelf” to help organize your content
  • Automatic reflow

E-textbooks meet e-learning with Flash animation embedded seamlessly inside the Digital Editions experience.

Live demo of generating Digital Editions out of InDesign via “Export to Digital Editions.” Formatting in DE is controlled by XSLT and you can deliver your own if you want to.

DE available in Mac, Windows, and soon a public beta for Linux. Sony Reader will include in the future.

What about plans to support other Adobe applications? Yes. Adobe applications that are “more XML-friendly and structured” than InDesign (hmmm, what could that be??) and also those that are “more consumer-friendly.”

Social networking might include shared reading lists.

You can convert PDFs back to DE, but DE is higher on the content chain than PDF. (Similar to going from paper back to digital.)

Very slick presentation. I hope the product lives up to the presentation.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

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