GAITHERSBURG, Md., Oct. 8, 1998 — Microsoft Corp. today announced it is joining major publishing firms, electronics manufacturers and pioneers in the new market for electronic books to establish an important set of open technical standards and help strengthen this emerging industry.
The announcement was made at the world’s first electronic book (
) conference, sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. The firms working with Microsoft include publishers Bertelsmann, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., Microsoft Press, Penguin Putnam Inc., Simon & Schuster and Time-Warner Books; the online book seller barnesandnoble.com; the manufacturer Hitachi Ltd.; Audible Inc., the Web’s leading electronic distributor of audiobooks; plus eBook pioneers EveryBook Inc., Glassbook Inc., Librius Inc., NuvoMedia Inc. and SoftBook Press Inc. More firms are expected to join this effort in the future.
eBooks are digital versions of printed books, which display on specialized reading devices or on PCs and laptops. The firms announced today that they have agreed to collaborate on a common set of file specifications. This will allow a title to be read on all machines adhering to these standards, and it will allow publishers to reach a wide audience without separately reformatting their titles for each machine.
“The goal is to create as many titles as possible, and win as many customers as possible – as fast as possible,”
said Dick Brass, vice president for technology development at Microsoft, who heads the company’s eBook efforts.
“The idea is to get eBooks off the ground.”
Brass emphasized that the
standard announced today is designed so that early purchasers of eBook titles will be able to read their
on all devices supporting the standard.
“There will be no penalty for buying early,”
During his keynote address, Brass reviewed the history of paperless book devices. He pointed out that while the product has great potential to lower publishing and book costs, ease distribution and increase access to information and education, past attempts to launch these devices have been largely unsuccessful.
“Most books are still published on paper only,”
Brass said. He urged publishers and eBook pioneers to continue to work together to make eBooks more attractive to consumers and more likely to succeed.
“There is no question that eventually electronic books will share the spotlight with books printed on paper,”
said Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and CEO.
“The question is: How does it start? I believe Microsoft is in a unique position to help bring the publishers and eBook makers together. By working early on with the various industry players to create a common set of standards, we are hopeful that eBooks will become a reality for consumers and the market.”
“We are delighted to work with Microsoft and others in the industry to help create a worldwide market for electronic books,”
said Thomas Middelhoff, the designated CEO of Bertelsmann.
“As a major publisher, Bertelsmann believes there is a great potential and future for eBooks. This initiative reinforces our investment and strategic relationship with NuvoMedia. By working together to create standards that will make life easier for publishers, manufacturers and customers, we will allow the market to fully realize the potential of eBooks.”
At the conference, Microsoft announced that the Open eBook specification for eBook file and format structure is based on the popular HTML and XML languages used to format information for Web sites. The specification, which will be available free of charge to all interested users, is designed to allow compatibility between many different types of eBook devices, including conventional PCs and laptops, as well as the specialized reading appliances that are now beginning to appear.
The specification is compatible with the development plans of the major eBook efforts already under way and provides a smooth transition path to a common standard.
“SoftBook Press and NuvoMedia have made a tremendous contribution to this effort by providing insight from their early work in bringing eBooks to market,”
“Our other partners in Open eBook bring deep experience in software, hardware, publishing and distribution to the effort. We’re grateful for their help and enthusiasm.”
Brass said the specification is a ‘living document,’ and the partners hope to fine-tune its features during the coming weeks. He added that Microsoft welcomed input and collaboration from others interested in eBook publishing.
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