E-books have been disrupting the publishing industry, but the big players -- Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble -- have dominated the field. Now a company led by an ex-Apple executive hopes to shake things up with the release of a new publishing tool and ecosystem.
The new software environment from San Francisco-based Inkling is called Habitat, and the company described it as "the most significant advance in publishing technology since the advent of desktop publishing in the 1980s." The cloud-based product, now emerging from beta, offers professional publishers the ability to create and publish media-rich interactive content.
CEO Matt MacInnis said in a statement that, "to reinvent the book, we had to reinvent the printing press," offering the ability to target devices with format-specific interactive experiences -- and to do so at scale.
Error Reporting, Version Control
Two years ago, the company launched its first e-textbooks for Apple's iPad. Habitat expands on that by providing a platform that pushes updates to every target platform at once, including iOS, Web browsers, Android devices later this year, and to the Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble digital bookstores.
Content teams can collaborate on a single project via the cloud-based environment. An object-oriented structure is designed to treat content as a software-based model instead of a page-based one, so that content can be addressed as individual units. Inkling said this approach was the result of the new offering being "the world's first strictly semantic publishing platform."
There is also automated error reporting, with a series of automated tests whenever content is being readied for publishing. Tests check for broken links, missing files and glossary problems, among other things.
In content as in software development, a big issue is version control. Habitat automatically saves every version of a project, and any team member can roll back changes at any point.
Content Delivery Platform
In addition to the publishing tool, Inkling has also launched its Content Delivery Platform, which can be combed via search engines and offers samples of books for free. MacInnis has emphasized to news media that this platform is intended to provide an alternative specifically to Amazon, which he said "is killing the publishing industry."
Amazon owns 60 percent of the e-book market. Inkling offers about 450 titles, and expects to have thousands by this time next year.
A big area of potential growth is the education market, particularly e-textbooks. E-textbooks have doubled in market share in the last two years to 6 percent in 2012, and some projections envision a 10 percent share this year. By 2020, e-textbooks could represent half of all such publications.
Michael Gartenberg, research director at Gartner, said there was "definitely room for more tools in this market to create e-books," especially if it offered new features or ease of use. But he said there were "lots of challenges" for another distribution platform to reach readers, particularly in light of e-book buyers' familiarity with the big players.