Zondervan EBooks Lighten Load

June 27, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Matthew, Mark, Paul, Luke and John are now online and coming to a personal digital assistant near you.

Information technology has taken consumers to a new level of convenience as the Bible and other books are converted to an electronic format. Last year Zondervan began marketing its New International Version Bible as an e-book — and it became the best-selling book of 2002 on the PDA platform.

And, to make e-books even more available to the public at large, Zondervan is partnering with netLibrary and OverDrive to make its e-books available to libraries across the country.

“The idea is to say that if you want to read one book but then decide to switch to another one, you don’t have to be carrying two books around with you, but just a small portable device which holds all of them,” said Mark Hunt, vice president and associate publisher for new media at Zondervan.

Hunt admitted that even he likes the feel of a hard-bound book in his hands and the look of a nice leather-bound library, but he feels that the new electronic offering will be suited for a special demographic consisting of two groups of people.

He sees one user group as being those who already own a personal digital assistant (PDA) or a desktop computer and who would use e-books because it’s less expensive than buying the real thing. The second user group he sees as being from the professional fields, using e-books as a reference tool.

“I have a friend who is a doctor and he has the Physicians’ Desk Reference in his Palm because it is normally a very bulky book, and this way he can just look something up and get right there, or bookmark things to be used often or come back to,” said Hunt. “I have also seen pastors who purchase the book but then have purchased the e-book to locate quotes and information for the sermon, and he is able to cut and paste right into his sermon.”

And this is one key advantage of the program, said Hunt: the ability to bookmark pages, search for keywords or specific pages, and print pages or copy quotes to use somewhere else.

With the recent controversy on sharing copies of digital music and the way it has hurt recording artists and studios, the e-book developers had to make sure the same thing wouldn’t happen to authors and publishers.

To this end, suppliers are working to create a distribution system known as digital rights management (DRM) technology that ensures protection for copyrighted material while making it easy for consumers to buy and enjoy these forms of digital entertainment.

“We have developed a way to wrap the security around it so the books cannot be duplicated,” said Hunt. “You are allowed to designate a few different places you can access the software — for instance your PC and your handheld device.”

When looking for an e-book Hunt suggests going to www.ebooklocator.com, where a consumer can type in the name of a book and find the locations where the e-book can be purchased. To purchase the book, Hunt gave the example of going to Amazon.com. Once there, all a visitor needs to do is type in the name of a book and choose the e-book format. Once the book is purchased, there is a link to download the book or copy it to a PDA. This is also the time the buyer has the opportunity to register three destinations of his choice to view the book.

“Behind the scenes of the transaction, at the end, the site notifies digital rights management and DRM makes sure the consumer can register three devices, but makes it secure so you can’t beam it to someone else’s PDA,” said Hunt.

Beyond the purchase of e-books by individuals is the partnership between Zondervan, OverDrive and netLibrary that will make it possible for libraries to offer Zondervan’s e-books to patrons.

Security will lie within the software the two companies provide, which allows libraries to add e-books to their collections, check e-books out to patrons via the library’s Web site and check them back in again automatically at the end of the loan period, said Hunt. In addition, the system allows each e-book copy to be loaned to only one person at a time, in the same way that a print book is loaned.

Zondervan, OverDrive and netLibrary are currently working to implement programs with libraries across the country. The nation’s first digital collection will launch at the Cleveland Public Library this month and it will be the first of its kind to offer best-selling titles for nearly every type of PC, notebook, Tablet PC, Palm, Sony and Pocket PC PDA device.

“The initial list of books Zondervan is offering in the e-book format is a wide variety and we don’t assume what the public wants, so we are publishing a wide variety and then we will see what takes off. So far we have Bibles, kids’ books, technical textbooks and novels,” said Hunt. “Some books are being published only in e-books. This is something that is slowly picking up. We now have 10 to 15 percent of our books in e-book format. We hope that the libraries see the value in this and I think it will catch on slowly.”    

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