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.

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