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Tower of eBabel: Why e-Books Are Such a Mess and How They Can Improve

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The digital publications industry is in chaos, with competing e-book formats resulting in a lack of content that plagues the industry. Mark Carey explains how this impasse came about and suggests what can be done to fix the problem.
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Introduction

Global e-book sales in 2005 were projected to reach about $15 million, according to the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), a major trade group. For comparison purposes, e-book sales for the first half of 2005 were up 72% over the same period in 2004. While the increase is impressive, the actual number is just a speck of the $23.7 billion in sales of paper books. A Biblical story comes to mind from the wasteful and confusing proliferation of formats—the tale of the Tower of Babel, whose builders failed for want of a common tongue.

"The Tower of eBabel," says David Rothman, OpenReader Consortium cofounder and coiner of the phrase in an e-book context, "may have cost the industry tens of millions in sales over the years—maybe even hundreds of millions or more. Too many non-geeks have found it a chamber of horrors."

In this article, I’ll explore the major e-book challenges, what industry leaders are doing to address these challenges, and what outcomes you can expect as a user of e-books.

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