Arthur Attwell

Tools of change: News from ebooks’ biggest conference

The annual O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference has just closed in New York and as usual it was a digital-publishing feast. Though I didn’t get to go myself, the flood of blogging and tweeting that came from the conference kept me happy right until my brain exploded.

Though more time would improve my hindsight, the conference’s top three highlights were:

  • Amazon launched their second-generation Kindle: it’s far prettier than the original and has much-improved firmware. The jury’s still out on its true significance to the ebook industry, and whether Amazon is circling for the kill or getting itself encircled, tangled in its own proprietary file format and self-defeating megalomania. Only time will tell. And maybe Steve Jobs.
  • The Stanza reader from Lexcycle (currently available for the iPhone, with support for other phones on the way) will soon be able to read ebooks distributed from Adobe Content Server. In simple terms: you’ll soon be able to read the ebooks you’ve purchased directly from major retailers on your iPhone. At the moment, you can only read these on your PC or Mac (not Linux) using Adobe Digital Editions, or on your Sony Reader. If you’re not involved in the fray of ebook format wars and DRM, you’ll be thinking, “Eh? You couldn’t do this before?” Erm, yes, it’s an embarrassment to ebook geeks everywhere. The Stanza–Adobe announcement is a good sign.
  • Okay, this announcement didn’t happen at the conference, but it was close enough to be a major talking point: Google expanded its Google Books programme to mobile phones, specifically the iPhone and phones running an Android OS.

So, mobile phones 2, proprietary ebook-reading device 1. I’m pretty sure that, after our day-job screens, phones will remain our primary reading device. This is simply because, for most of us, the convenience trumps everything, including price and even the quality of content and design.

Another highlight was the announcement from Plastic Logic about the forthcoming release of its very exciting Plastic Logic Reader — thin, light, large, wireless, and format-unselfish.

It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the changes in this industry. We’re looking at a very big year for ebooks.