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Japan Group to Propose Global Net Publishing Standard

The Japan Electronic Book Committee has developed a new electronic publication format that it will actively promote as a national and international network publishing standard.

The group's proposed Network Electronic Book Format (NET EB) is based on the XML Web browser specification, a next-generation document formatting standard that eliminates the proprietary tags of current HTML (HyperText Markup Language) implementations.

"Through this new proposal, the committee is seeking to establishing a standardized electronic publishing format," said Nishikawa Hideo, chairman of the Japan Electronic Book Committee. This, he declared, "will contribute to helping Japan transform itself into a networked society."

Electronic books have so far enjoyed only modest popularity in Japan, in part because there is no industry-wide standard for digitizing and formatting publication data.

About 1.1 million copies of some 500 electronic book titles in at least four different formats have been sold in Japan, mainly language-study aids and dictionaries, business texts, and hobby/leisure books.

These typically have been distributed on 8-cm CD-ROMs playable on palm-size electronic book players, such as the Sony Data Discman, or on home PCs.

The potential for Internet-based publication, however, has spurred an effort by Japanese publishers to simplify and standardize the nation's fractured electronic book distribution system.

"Our company has tried developing electronic books," said Toshio Gomi, president of Sanseido, "but the cost and the time required to process the data [into the various formats] was a problem."

"The standardized electronic publishing format that is being proposed now will help alleviate this problem and, I believe, greatly contribute to increasing the selection and decreasing the cost of electronic books."

The Japan Electronic Book Committee was established in August 1991 to promote electronic books. Its 120-plus members include such leading Japanese publishers, distributors, and electronics manufacturers as Dai Nippon Printing, Impress, Nikkei, Sanseido, Sharp, Sony, and Toppan.

The group released (in Japanese) its Network Electronic Book Format Working Draft, version 0.6110, on March 24.

NET EB has two components.

Common NET EB contains standardized "meaning" tags that are applicable to any display device, whether it is a desktop PC running a Web browser, a dedicated electronic book player, or a handheld personal digital assistant.

Unique NET EB defines "display" and "information" tags adapted the capabilities of the individual terminals, including such attributes as line spacing, line width, and fonts.

Unique NET EB also specifies text attributes peculiar to Japanese, such as vertical text and rubi (marginal kana indications of the proper pronunciation of a difficult or unusual kanji character), and includes structural definitions designed to ensure copyright protection.

The Japan Electronic Book Committee will try to convince other Japanese electronic publishing groups--such as the EPWING Consortium, the Japanese Electronic Publishing Association, and the recently formed Electronic Book Consortium--to support its NET EB proposal.

It will also propose NET EB as a world standard to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the global Internet technologies standardization body that has been guiding XML development.

The committee hopes to rally publishing industry support for its next-generation electronic publishing standard in time for NET EB-formatted products to reach the market by autumn 2000.