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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