Adobe captures ebook standard. What now?
E Pluribus E-Books Unum E-Reader?
Among the charming aspects of the fledgling electronic book industry is the way very large corporations can skirt ethical boundaries in the field - yet not make much money.
Adobe Systems, the company whose EULA prohibited reading Alice in Wonderland aloud, and an outfit that once arrested a Russian programmer for pointing out that the DRM on Acrobat wasn't very good, now has a standard for ebook behavior all its own.
Rejecting the post-modernist assertion that really it's all text, some six months ago, the New York-located International Digital Publishing Forum, and its one employee, Nick Bogarty, announced that agreement had been reached on a new electronic books standard.
This format, .epub, was to be the XML-based, multi-device, reflowable, universal format two underemployed men in their 50s had demanded. Also, .epub would support PDF. Because everyone knows how great PDF looks on a PalmPilot or cell phone. It may be worth mentioning, there is one gold sponsor of the IDPF, Adobe, and the IDPF's sole employee, has announced he's leaving the position. To go work at Adobe.
Adobe says its Digital Editions and InDesign will read and create .epub. Digital Editions is kinda like Macromedia's FlashPaper, save where FlashPaper let anybody make any document web-viewable in seconds, Digital Editions only supports books in .epub (and PDF).
Needless to say, apart from a handful of front-runners, nobody greeted the launch of Digital Editions with much enthusiasm. Even the IDPF failed to add a working guide to creating the format on its site.
Then there were some weird Adobe creations - .epub samples generated by InDesign which add additional files not required in the IDPF spec (as well as the optional PDF for your cellphone). These work, but don't even meet Adobe's own spec.
The backstory to all this is that Amazon owns a firm by the name of Mobipocket. Mobi is already the largest ebooks retailer, despite not integrating with Amazon's site. Mobi also figured out years ago the wisdom of not charging for software that creates ebooks in its format, and converting anything from Word Documents to simple HTML to PDF (Mobi will support .epub as an input...eventually).
Mobi ain't perfect. There was a poorly-handled outage recently, and the company's location in France apparently means no Mac support until skilled programmers can sneak out when the bodies are next dumped at Chateau d'If.
Book 'em, Adobe
However, in October Amazon's got an electronic ink-based reader coming. There is, in other words, almost no reason to pay attention to Adobe's .epub format. Except maybe for Sony's Reader, which is expected to support .epub files some day.
But clearly the point of this "standard" is to, in the next congressional buying cycle, go for regulatory capture in the form of a "Digital Archive Integrity Act" which will require schools and libraries to buy only "standard works" - no doubt from "standard vendors" such as Adobe, and create barriers to entry for pesky new competitors, like the upstart ebook Romance publishers, which are currently giving Harlequin fits. It's the kind of thing you'd fear, given the implications for censorship when control of content ends up in very few hands,
I guess we don't have to be too worried, as long as Adobe can't even code to its own bought-and-paid-for spec. ®
David Moynihan is webmaster at munseys.com.
Adobe reader has support for the use of SAPI for synthesised text output, provided the book/PDF exposes the textual data and grants the right (say, could that be what Adobe means by "Permission to read aloud"?). For publishers paranoid about text copying, we - the blind users - have a little war to wage against the publishers, whilst the screen reader vendors work with Adobe to make the reader work just well enough to be usable. Oh, the joys; the unadulterated pleasures of it all.
Speech synthesis, I think, is something you get used to. I'm blind and use it all the time, and I've heard pretty much all synthetic variations from the 30s onward. Perhaps, rather than using concatenated elements, you should look into formant-based synthesis by rule? It's more unnatural (more computer-sounding), but much more agreeably consistent. The inflection is really there, carried by punctuation, and the synthesisers do their best to make things sound smoothe and responsive. ScanSoft now owns most of the best commercial synthesisers. There's a heavy license tag on them, though, for use by licensees who, in the AT market, rub a bit off on the end-victim. Then there's Fonix, whose latest generation is a mix using samples and DSP for a minimal footprint - a runtime for Linux can be had at $30. Open Source is available, quite good in cases and mostly in the by-rule category. Festival, which uses diphones and sounds not bad-ish, was once truely open; it seems to have become dubiously licensed since. But ESpeak, FreeTTS and Flite are still in evidence, and have their approvers (flite being, in essence, a fast-performing festival - until recently, anyway).
Human-sounding? Try http://www.nextup.com/ for all that's best in synthesis for use by the easily-impressed great unwashed. Go on, surprise yourselves. You'll pay for your sin with large disk space requirements.
I've read Project Gutenberg (I *love* Project Gutenberg! Check them out at gutenberg.org ) from Shakespeare through JKJ through Crompton using TTS. I think I've been most impressed by ScanSoft Elloquence's rendition of As You Like It. It's just amazing. And beautiful. Synthesisers that make you concentrate too hard on their output (I.E., those not blessed with very intelligent exception dictionaries, grammatical processing and with huge gobs of diaphone data at high-quality rates using a less-than-average blessing of emphasis rules for a big bite of CPU) are just hideous to use for anything serious. These are, I think, what you really want in a narrator for your EBook though, and what humans not needing synthesis in an assistive market think of as somehow necessary. It isn't that you don't need a better synthesiser, it's just that you're already hard-put-on to get anything more human-sounding onto your desktop computer. Surprising though how many people can listen to and learn Elloquence (rule-based) in little more than a few minutes before understanding it flawlessly, clearly and consistently. Hmm. If you can take the stereotypical robot-sounding voice, you'll soon master it and love the privileges it brings you.
You seem to forget where they landed ... which is exactly why we are in that situation right now. As for the rest of the Golgafrinchans... they died out from something they contracted from an unsanitised phone ...
so count your blessings :p
anyway it is indeed outrageous. yet another ebook format. ah well, there's always iSilo ...
You mean people pay for Mobipocket titles?
I have Mobipocket Reader on my phone and enough free books from manybooks.net to keep me occupied for a good while. As a highly trained Yorkshireman, I certainly wouldn't buy an electronic text for £10 if I could buy the paperback for a fiver.