Adobe Gets Rich With Digital Editions

    October 24, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

The people behind Flex and Flash think digital distribution of rich content needs an enlightened approach to generating, hosting, and protecting it.

That brought Adobe’s Bill McCoy, general manager for ePublishing Business, to our phones ahead of the launch of the public beta of their Digital Editions product.

The Flex 2-based application serves as Adobe’s response to the increasing demand for digital content. This will be the company’s first Flex 2 application they have released.

McCoy said Adobe has seen a greater commitment from publishers to make their content available in a digital format. Care to guess which publisher leads the industry in making its front-list available in e-book form? I would have guessed a technology publisher, but McCoy said Harlequin, mass-producers of the bodice-ripper, are at the top.

That tech market for digital distribution is growing though, McCoy said. But improvements in readability will have to continue to take place to drive adoption of digitally published content.

Getting the content to people will be Digital Editions’ trick. Along with enabling what Adobe considers a superior approach to delivering content, Digital Editions also looks ahead to the needs of publishers.

Adobe also considered its users on multiple platforms. The initial public beta is Windows only, but later versions will be available for the Macintosh as a universal binary, and to Linux platforms.

Those that use the new product can benefit from the hosted content protection model. The model will use identity-based authorization for content access that McCoy said will make content published with Digital Editions more “lightweight.”

Being lightweight is a benefit due to Adobe’s hopes to make Digital Editions the jumping-off point for content availability to a variety of devices. This would mean going beyond the PC, the familiar place one finds Adobe software, to mobile devices like smartphones or even dedicated reader devices.

The download made available today as part of the public beta does not replace Adobe Reader, the familiar PDF-reading application. Content downloaded to the Digital Editions client can be viewed on-or off-line, and that content can be in PDF, Flash, or what McCoy referred to as “flowable XHTML.”

Protecting the rights of content owners represents just one facet of the Digital Editions approach. Publishers will have dynamic contextual advertising available to place alongside their content. That potential for monetization could help a publisher transform a flagging print title into a nominally profitable or better publication.

That’s an option some publishers should consider when thinking about digital content. McCoy linked the issue of inordinate costs to digital publishing; since DRM can pose issues that require customer support, DRM imposes that cost on a publisher.

Using ads to monetize the content while Adobe does the heavy lifting on the DRM side with its hosted protection should couple nicely in helping publishers see a return on their investment. McCoy said marketing, not piracy, is the bigger challenge to publishers anyway.

McCoy was not ready to talk about specific advertising-related issues yet, but suggested that one or more of the usual suspects in that arena would be an Adobe partner here. The ad features will not be enabled with the public beta, but come with a later release.

Eventually Adobe envisions their Digital Editions to operate almost as a social media platform. McCoy expects it to become a platform for sharing, citing examples like making annotations to a document available to all of the collaborators using it.

There could also be a future for the product with college textbooks. Instead of utilizing the age-old practice of repaginating and shifting content in a textbook to maintain a revenue stream and thwart used book sellers, protected textbooks could be published with Digital Editions, sold for a less expensive price, but without the ability to resell them.

That’s an interesting prospect, and one that we think publishers and used textbook businesses will watch closely.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.