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Digital future lies beyond e-books

india Updated: Sep 26, 2010 20:39 IST

Google took search to new heights on the Internet, but the Web is still chaotic. In this chaos, there is another angle — what happens to publishers who invest resources to build content and what happens to people who want quality content served in a helpful way?

Above all, how does the Internet take our quest for meaningful knowledge to the next level in surfing the chaos?

I found some answers to these questions a few days ago, when I met Jeff Patterson, CEO of Safari Books Online (, a US-based firm created through a partnership between technology publisher O’Reilly Media and UK-based education and technology services company Pearson Group.

Safari Books, recently launched in India, aggregates books with permission from publishers, and is now largely focused on technology and business books aimed at IT industry professionals and managers. It organises the books, indexes the content and pages with sophisticated software and charges a subscription rate from users, who can be libraries, researchers, techies or managers looking for quality content.

“We have been thinking of adding local publishers,” says Patterson, adding that many Indian works are available through overseas publishers

Publishers get paid when a user takes a page view — a bit like pay-per-view for books akin to video downloads. More interestingly, publishers tend to put unreleased books online and use Safari Books as a test-marketing device to refine the books before publication! Patterson says this improves sales prospects.

You can bookmark content, organise them into “smart” folders so that the stuff you are searching for gets automatically updated.

In other words, Safari — which now has 11,000 books or videos — converts a needle-laden haystack into a manageable universe of golden needles. Subscribers pay between $10 and $43 a month (Roughly R450 and 2,000).

We also have a Dow Jones venture,, which similarly classifies thousands of newspapers, magazines and industry publications.

These ventures show that the digital content economy is moving to the next phase in which people will pay for stuff that helps them wade through the mess called the Internet. Google has its own book site (, but three years ago, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, led a lawsuit against Google Books, which has since been settled.

Google is still in the process of settling the details of partnerships that will enable search technologies to meet meaningful content halfway.

One thing is clear: search is not a panacea. Quality content and meaningful ways to organise services around them remain relevant. Taxonomy — the business of organising content — remains a critical aspect of the Web.

Above all, the Safari experience shows how we may change the way we read “books” as we know them. In the future, you may read pages from different books in a single sitting on a single screen, and catching publications as they arrive, almost like a news feed.