Beyond PDF: Digital Delivery Develops

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Macromedia Checks In
Not to be left out of any content delivery picture, Macromedia introduced FlashPaper last year. The product provides a way to put a graphical representation of a document directly on a Web site without having to open up a reader. It doesn't offer the same printing functionality as PDF, but it does provide a fast way to display or preview a document on a Web page. In fact, Macromedia sees it as a compliment to PDF rather than as a competitor.

Erik Larson, director of product management at Macromedia, says that Flash and PDF work together. "FlashPaper will provide a preview to get a sense of the document. If they want to download it for printing, PDF is better," Larson says. Gilbane agrees that the two can work together in powerful ways to help users. He says, "The idea behind FlashPaper is to create a version of the paper like a graphic. It provides an easier way to incorporate the document inside a Web page without opening up a separate application."

Moving Traditional Publications on the Web
In the realm of traditional publishing, the requirements are a bit trickier than those for most enterprise content delivery needs. In some instances, small publishers still use PDF to distribute their publications. Others display or email HTML versions, but most publishers want to use the power of the Web, while preserving some of the look and feel of traditional media. This has resulted in a number of approaches from vendors such as Zinio and NewsStand, which use a reader to download and view publications, or NXTbook, which incorporates the look and feel of a traditional page-turning publication delivered via a Web browser.

Gilbane isn't convinced any of these approaches work. "I look at it on my screen and I keep thinking it should behave like a Web browser or even a PDF, but it doesn't—it has a lot of other things going on. I've got a decent size screen with pretty good resolution, but it's hard to read a two page spread. To me it's like working with a PDF with a large page size, but you have to move the whole document to read it," Gilbane says.

Spencer Ewald, NXTbook's CEO, points out that the print metaphor has developed the way it has for a reason, and he believes that it's important to preserve it even when you move to an online setting. "We wanted to look at it from a publisher's perspective," he says. "There is a reason the way the book is laid out. We are conditioned to rest at the page flip. People get frustrated when scrolling because it's not laid out in the same way they are used to seeing and reading. Print is a type of interface, and we wanted to translate that onto the Web and marry the power of print with the assets of the Internet—the depth, the quickness, the ease, and the distribution method."

Kit Webster, NewsStand's CEO, agrees with Ewald and says his company's research has reached similar findings. "Surveys show that newspapers and people have evolved together over the last couple of hundred years, and they have a format people are used to, including the advertisements," he says. "They can navigate it easily and Web sites are difficult to navigate sometimes and very often sites have to omit things."

Webster says that NewsStand employs a reader to provide more advanced functionality for his customers such as panning, zooming, and searching along with features such as a watch list. In addition, the reader provides a way to measure click-throughs and enforce digital rights management. For instance, NewsStand stops functioning if the user opens a screen capture program. (NewsStand introduced a browser-based version of the product with lower-level DRM in June, but continues to offer the reader version).

Ewald wanted to use Web standards with NXTbook and therefore went without DRM (his product does offer usage analytics). "We were always about open Web standards.," Ewald says. "We lost some jobs because of it. DRM is great for publishers, but as it currently functions, it upsets readers."

Webster believes DRM gives publishers a degree of comfort and is a major selling point for the reader-based version of his product. "Newspapers and magazines are interested in DRM and making sure their publications aren't republished on the Internet and doctored along the way," Webster says.

Gilbane agrees that DRM enforces copyrights but says that in its current form, it merely annoys end users. "DRM will have some role, but it's not there yet and I haven't seen any solution that makes it friendly enough for the reader," says Gilbane. "My first reaction when people started to implement digital rights stuff, the problem with all of them, is they frustrate the readers, so they give up."

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