Found via Mediabistro, this short post, Convenience and Quality, from noted publisher Peter Osnos.

The Caravan Project is simultaneously releasing books in multiple formats. Peter writes

“About two dozen books will be released simultaneously in the traditional printed version in hardcover or paperback supplemented, if necessary to keep the book in ready supply, by the latest version of print-on-demand technology. At the same time, the book will be available in digital formats for reading on computers (desk, lap, and hand) either in full or in parts. An audio version will be read by its author or a professional reader and downloadable on to your favored listening device. Finally (at least so far) the books will be rendered in a large-type format.”

That’s really cool and a great experiment, though it’s odd to think that it’s groundbreaking. I know there’s a strong economic incentive to release in hardcover first, and that makes sense, but what’s so revolutionary about releasing multiple formats?

What’s funny to me is that the book industry (including its bloggers and reporters) seems oblivious to that fact that the tech market has been way out front with alternative publishing strategies, from ebook subscriptions services such as Safari or Books24X7 to publishers asking that books be delivered in XML format and therefore ready for all sorts of electronic slicing and dicing from the get-go. Not to mention that for obvious reasons the tech book market is probably the best environment to explore ebooks (note too O’Reilly’s Rough Cuts or Pragmatic Programmer’s Beta Books. You’d also want to look at companies like Wiley, which is a leader in the electronic journals market.

Of course in the reference world there’s more incentive to get information fast and to stay on top of the newest technologies.

Osnos says “Books, particularly the serious nonfiction and specialized works in the Caravan demonstration, have always been limited in distribution. As the technology enables them to be always available in so many different ways, it is fair to predict they will be more widely used.”

Yep. That’s true. Interestingly, that’s also a big selling point for Google’s Book Search.

The biggest challenge with multiple formats, and one not solved in the tech market, is piracy. With increasing frequency, books that are available in electronic form are available for download for free on warez sites throughout the world. The hope is always that downloaders will convert to purchasers, but that hasn’t happened yet.

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