On the Adobe eBook Platform – Part 2: Overview

This is part 2 of a 10 part series by Micah Bowers, Co-Founder and CEO of Bluefire. Click here to read the first post in the series.

The Adobe eBook Platform is a set of technologies, applications, and web-based services that in total equate to an ecosystem for the creation, distribution, and display of rights managed digital content such as ebooks. There are many moving parts to this ecosystem, but one could vastly over-simplify it by describing itas an ebook publishing platform that any company or organization can leverage.

The notion that “any company” can use the Adobe eBook platform is a key element of what makes it different than other popular ebook platforms. For example, Amazon’s Kindle platform has a similar set of moving parts, but only Amazon can store, deliver and display the content in devices and applications created and controlled by the company. It is a private ecosystem that no other company can participate in, except as a “supplier”.

The Adobe platform allows many different kinds of organizations to participate. These organizations have the ability to participate either as end-to-end players that publish and deliver content directly to consumers, or as a company with specific industry vertical focus such as app developers, hardware manufacturers, retailers, and aggregators. These vertical players are as much parts of the ecosystem as are the individual technology components themselves.

Those technology components are:

  1. Adobe Reader Mobile SDK (“RMSDK”): This is a very deep set of C++ source code libraries that any organization can license and use to build ereading applications or ereader devices. A few companies have leveraged RMSDK to build their own applications, including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Overdrive, and Sony, among others. However, developing a mobile or desktop application with RMSDK is a significant undertaking requiring a highly skilled team working for many months at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of these high costs, many companies turn to software developers that specialize in this area – such as Bluefire and a handful of others.
  1. Adobe Content Server 4 (“ACS4”): This is a server-side software product that is operated by hundreds of organizations around the globe. It encrypts ebook files and enables the operator to set permissions that control how the ebooks can be used. These forms of control manage  how much content users can copy or print, whether content can be moved to other devices, etc.  You could say that it “applies DRM”, though it does *much* more than that. A publisher might operate ACS4 themselves, or it might be operated by a distributor, aggregator, library, or retailer. The software supports ebook “purchase” models as well as loans, rentals and even subscription business models.
  1. Adobe Digital Editions (“ADE”): This is an ereader application for desktop computers. It provides a “neutral” platform for reading ebooks. It is neutral in that it is not associated with any particular retailer, publisher, or library. This is both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength in that many different ebook retailers feel comfortable delivering content to end users to read in ADE. Freely available, ADE allows retailers to avoid the cost of either licensing a white label app or licensing RMSDK and developing apps for multiple desktop operating systems (as Sony, B&N and a few others have done). The fact that ADE can not be customized is also a weakness because it does not enable retailers to integrate the shopping and ebook download features that consumers have come to expect – features that provide a much more seamless and intuitive experience.
  1. Adobe Web Services: There are several web-based services that Adobe operates 24/7 that make this whole ebook ecosystem work. These services include the Adobe Activation Service, which comes into play when consumers authorize their application with their Adobe ID or Vendor ID (I’ll discuss the ID system in detail in a later post). Another service is the Adobe License Signing Service which comes into play when a user is downloading a purchased or loaned ebook. Lastly, there is the Adobe Vendor ID service, which I will cover in part 5 of this series.
  1. Authoring: And of course there are the Adobe Creative Suite apps such as inDesign that everyone knows about and which are used to create the content in the first place. That said, one could create EPUB or PDF content in a huge variety of applications – including the most simple of text editors.

The Adobe ecosystem is a wide-reaching and mature ecosystem, and there really is no major competitor in the marketplace. That is not surprising as the investment of time and money required to build and maintain such an ecosystem is intense. Amazon and Apple have built their own versions of this in some ways, but these closed systems are in many ways “smaller” in scope because they don’t enable the direct participation of literally hundreds of other companies world-wide.

And, while the Adobe eBook platform enables so many organizations in the digital publishing ecosystem to build ebook businesses and services, there is also a key benefit to people who love to read: Choices. As a consumer, I can choose to buy ebooks from a host of different companies world-wide, both from major retail chains and small indie bookstores or publishers. I can choose to read that ebook on a wide variety of ereader devices from one of many established hardware brands, or read it with any one of dozens of ereading applications  available on just about any smartphone, tablet, or computer, including apps developed by Bluefire. And I get to actually keep my own ebook files and mange my own collection instead of having them managed in a closed system. I can back my files up, put them on a thumb drive, and so forth. For me personally, this  control has always been essential.

In part 3 of this series: “What’s New?” I will describe the many improvements that have been made to the platform recently.

– Micah