Follett Adds Yet Another E-Book Format

The messy world of e-books is about to get a bit messier.  Follett, one of the leading distributors of educational content in various forms, announced that it is about to launch a new e-book format and reader application for El-Hi (elementary and secondary) educational materials, replacing Adobe Reader and PDF.

Follett gave a few reasons for the change, including that Adobe Reader is not the best environment for elementary school kids and elementary school educational materials.  But there’s more to it than that.  

Another reason has to do with Adobe’s new Content Server 4 platform for DRM and e-book distribution: its pricing model includes per-transaction fees instead of traditional software license fees.  If Follett were to operate Content Server 4 servers, it would have to pay a fee every time a student downloads an e-book.   For a school environment, that’s ridiculous.

Adobe would have to offer a different business model to accomodate Follett as well as other vendors that support encrypted PDFs and distribute e-books into school or library environments, such as OverDrive.  Apparently Follett asked Adobe for a business model involving upfront instead of per-transaction fees, but Adobe couldn’t make a decision or define a suitable model in time.  (Adobe claims that Follett did not ask for any such thing.)

Follett’s new format also happens to contain more publisher-friendly DRM than Adobe Content Server.  Content in the Follet reader will be locked to a single PC; copy/paste and print ranges are chosen by the publisher instead of set uniformly for the entire site; the publisher can also select whether to allow and the page format is Flash-based, meaning that it’s image-oriented rather than character-oriented and thus harder to hack. 

Educational publishing has special requirements for DRM compared to other industry segments such as trade and professional — publishers don’t want only one or a few kids in a given class to “share” their e-textbooks with other students in the class.  But still: when is the publishing industry going to wake up to the fact that all this fragmentation of e-book formats and DRMs is going to stymie growth of the market?

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