Sunday, June 20, 2010

Blio finally coming to market; Ray K babbles about distribution deals

According to The New York Times, the Blio software eBook reader is finally going to start shipping. Blio, from KFNB Reading Technology, maintains page fidelity (eBooks look like, and are paginated like, their print equivalents.) Ray Kurzweil, the founder of KFNB, said that a variety of distribution deals are coming soon, including one with Wal-Mart, which Wal-Mart refused to comment on and was probably unhappy about.

Kurzweil points out that Blio's ability to maintain page fidelity is great for "cookbooks, how-to guides, schoolbooks, travel guides and children’s books" He also is quoted saying “The publishers will not give things with complex formats to these e-reader makers. They destroy the format.” What he doesn't say is that Adobe's PDF also maintains page fidelity, there are PDF readers from Adobe and many other vendors, and by and large, they're also free. He also doesn't mention that Blio uses a proprietary format that only his reader supports. So if you buy eBooks in the Blio format, you can only use them with Blio readers. Using a proprietary format may not be a big problem if your name is, but it's a bigger problem when you effectively have no distribution and are completely dependent on other companies to adopt and sell your product.

He also misspeaks about the reason that publishers haven't made graphically rich titles available in eBook formats. It's not that they don't like the available readers, it's that in many cases, they're simply not yet marketing their children's or specialty titles as eBooks.

I've played with the Blio reader, and it has a lot to recommend it. Its text-to-speech and translation capabilities are particularly good--what you'd expect given Kurzweil's experience with readers for the visually disabled. However, introducing a new, proprietary format is a retrograde move. KFNB could have done everything it wanted to do with PDF, but decided to invent its own format. That's bad for customers, bad for publishers and bad for the eBook industry in general. The eBook industry needs fewer formats, not more.
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Unknown said...

A good review in part, but there are some points I would take issue with:

1) PDFs maintain page fidelity zealously, which is an inherit problem with a format that stems from a typesetting language (PostScript). I do not know anything about the Blio format except that it allows typeset text to be sensibly reflowed.

2)You reverse logic when you reason that publishers haven’t made graphically rich titles because of some mysterious reluctance to release children’s books (textbooks, works of science etc., can far more demanding in this regard). The unreliable nature of software rendering makes such things physically impossible. For instance, try getting any reliable rendering of an offset paragraph number amongst the large variety of software that pretends to read ePUBS – I have tried with no success.

I favour an open standard like ePUB, but it is woefully inadequate for anything other than novels at this time. Yet ironically if CSS 2 subset had been implemented thoroughly on software then this would not be the case.

I am looking forward to Blio because I believe it may well set the standard in terns of tight graphic rendering and sensible de-rendering of text, if ePUB can make this standard (even ePUBs on the Blio) all is well, if not I will switch to the Blio format for the works of science that I wish to publish, but cannot reliably do so now.

Greg Schofield, Perth Australia

Unknown said...


If you're trying to maintain page fidelity, there's no such thing as "sensibly reflowing." Reflowing a page breaks page fidelity--it no longer looks as it originally did, page number references are no longer correct, etc. There are cases where this doesn't matter, but these aren't the cases that Blio is targeting.

In addition, I've had direct discussions with senior executives at major publishers in the U.S. who haven't seen the business case for making children's books available as eBooks. It's not "reverse logic", and it's not because there aren't available formats (there are, from companies such as Adobe and Follett.) They don't perceive the business opportunity.

I'm glad that you're looking forward to Blio, and I wish you good luck with the format.