McIlroy--Seybold Announcements Were Aplenty
The big news came from a few directions. Microsoft announced that its eBook reader (known as the Open eBook, or OEB) committee reached agreement on the first version of the OEB specification. Adobe threw its hat into the eBook ring by announcing a PDF variant that would allow rights tracking, advanced security features and the ability to sell PDF files via an e-commerce server. The jury is out on whether PDF is an optimal eBook format, but certainly PDF is not currently compatible with the OEM spec.
Probably the most interesting announcement at Seybold San Francisco came from a relatively new company called Fatbrain.com. Fatbrain operates a large Web-based business and technical bookstore. The company also supplies print-on-demand technical documentation for a range of high-tech companies.
The new "product" Fatbrain announced at Seybold is called eMatter. With eMatter, Fatbrain will accept written material of any length—a page, five pages, a thousand pages—and make it available electronically (in PDF format), or on a print-on-demand basis, to anyone who visits the company's site. The author gets to set the retail price, and the proceeds are then shared 50-50 with Fatbrain. What Fatbrain is doing is breaking through the paradigm that a saleable print commodity must be a newspaper, a magazine or a book.
eMatter challenges the role of publishers of all types. Authors are able to interact directly with a viable sales and distribution channel. But even more important is that Fatbrain makes available more timely technical information than has ever been available before, and makes it possible for knowledge to be shared at a speed that was previously impossible. I believe this is truly a revolutionary development in the history of publishing.
I guess a truly revolutionary development in the history of publishing can make a technical conference feel like a Broadway hit. That must be the secret!