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OverDrive Gears Up for Digital Content

Over the past year, the promising digital rights management industry—a diverse group of companies with various approaches to unlocking, delivering, and protecting intellectual property on the Internet—has suffered its share of setbacks, along with other start-up technology companies.
The industry, dubbed DRM, has the potential to give consumers books, audio material, and videos that have so far not been legally available online. Unfortunately, many of these companies went under in 2001 and 2002, leaving a handful of tenacious survivors to break this exciting new ground.
One of those survivors has, appropriately enough, been around longer than most. Founded in 1986 to sell software to accounting and law publishers, OverDrive Inc. has become one of the leaders in the industry. It has four primary business units: data conversion, software development for enterprise-level portals and online retail storefronts, electronic books, and digital rights management.
In each of its ventures, OverDrive operates solely in the business-to-business space, meaning that all of their customers are institutions or retailers purveying wares to another set of consumers. OverDrive has built relationships with universities, university presses, publishers, booksellers, and other clients.
At the moment, most of OverDrive's publisher relationships exist to sell books to general audiences. Ironically, the textbook and academic publishing industry, which has a built-in computer-dependent audience, has been slower to embrace e-books. According to Pamela Turner, OverDrive's director of content, "Most academic publishers have been concentrating on the library market more than the retail buyer" when it comes to electronic content. "However, that has begun to change."
Indeed, more and more academic e-texts are becoming available. Rovia Inc., a company based in Boston, now offers e-books in 23 disciplines, and companies like OverDrive are partnering with publishers to deliver packaged e-book content. OverDrive is also working with several leading textbook publishers to provide students with books compatible with Microsoft Corp.'s Reader and Adobe Systems Inc.'s Acrobat eBook Reader.
Among OverDrive's customers are Purdue University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Oxford University Press. Wiley, Houghton Mifflin Co., and Bedford, Freeman and Worth Publishing Group have also partnered with the company, primarily to sell electronic versions of their study guides and ancillary materials.
In addition to working with publishers, OverDrive has partnered with Follett Corp., the textbook distributor with bookstores in most states and Canada. OverDrive posted Follett's numerous study guides online and is the developer of Follett's new online bookstore (
bookstore/eBooks.jsp), which lists hundreds of electronic titles. Most are trade books, but many are appropriate for course adoption. The site also includes several dozen study guides and support products for students.
"Our partnership with OverDrive has been good for [us]," said Sharon Fredi, director of digital projects for Follett Higher Education Group. "OverDrive's Content Reserve makes it very efficient to source digital content for our eBookstore—it's one-stop shopping for e-books from a large number of publishers. By also providing an interface to the publisher-supplied marketing information and metadata to aid in merchandising our e-books, OverDrive offers all the services we need for a successful e-bookstore."
OverDrive's Content Reserve, called a "global digital content marketplace," is a repository for content providers. The content provider/publisher uploads a single copy of each title and all associated marketing, pricing, and DRM information into the Content Reserve account. This is a secure location from which the publisher sells to retailers.
In turn, e-book retailers can build a catalog of titles by drawing from those in the Content Reserve. Content Reserve manages the copyright and distribution issues for each title as well. Through this service, e-book publishers and retailers can open an account, manage their inventory, and get an instant record of sales and transaction activity. All that is required is a PC, an Internet connection, and a Web browser.
In addition to the DRM and content management sides of the e-book business, OverDrive is also an active player in electronic publishing. According to founder and chief executive officer Steve Potash, the company began its life as an e-books provider, supplying software that allowed publishers to move content onto diskettes. Now, OverDrive is a leader in this area, with three distinct products.
BookWorks software can be used to produce electronic books on CD-ROM. It includes full-text indexing, a search engine, and the tools to create navigational maps and trees, giving users the ability to manage intellectual content easily. All data is in a single compressed file complete with hyperlinks, graphics, tables, maps, trees, and a text index. The viewer for BookWorks is based on Microsoft's Internet Explorer. It also has an SQL engine for publishing databases. Another module, BookWorks DNA, is a software system designed to protect copyrighted material, text, images, and other digital files for secure distribution and sale.
OverDrive Connect is a tool that content providers can use to extend the value of their content by allowing it to be converted instantly into e-book material. When content owners add the OverDrive Connect link to their Web sites, users can instantly convert and download pages from content found on the Internet or an intranet into portable e-books.
The tool converts pages, articles, or entire sections of material to Microsoft Reader format for portable reading on a desktop PC, notebook computer, or Pocket PC. Content owners can then deploy DRM to protect the converted content. OverDrive Connect is available at several Web sites, including Fathom Knowledge Network's online educational site (
Formatted e-books have the potential to do away with the traditional photocopied coursepak. Under an initiative with the University of Ph'enix, OverDrive software will deliver all of the university's distance learning course content; there will be no print materials in the program.
OverDrive also sells ReaderWorks, a tool used to convert Microsoft Word documents into Microsoft Reader books for distribution via the Web. And finally, OverDrive's eBookExpress is a free service that allows anyone to build a basic e-book.

For more information on OverDrive, visit For more information on eBookExpress, visit

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