Safari Books Buys Threepress, Forges Ahead In Digital Publishing Jungle

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O’Reilly publishing conference, which sent a lot of new business her way. “That bootstrapped my company,” she says. More broadly, her timing was good too.

The recent history of e-books goes something like this. The late 1990s saw the first wave of reader technologies: the Rocket eBook (by NuvoMedia), the SoftBook Reader, and others. That wave crashed during the dark days of 2001-2005 as e-book businesses flopped, publishers yawned, and not much productive happened. By 2007-2008, though, things were changing. The Amazon Kindle debuted, and the EPUB standard came out, convincing more publishers to get on board. Sony, Adobe, and more recently Google and Apple have become big players.

In early 2010, Threepress released Ibis Reader, a closed-source, HTML5-based reader for Web and mobile devices (including iPhone and recent Android models). That turned out to be a coup, as every Web-based e-reading program from Kindle Cloud Reader to Google Books to Apple’s iBooks uses a similar technology stack. So the product has generated a lot of white-label licensing business. “We got very lucky,” Daly says. “We just added HTML5 because it sounded cool.”

Last summer, Neelan Choksi mentioned to me that Threepress was doing some of the most interesting work in e-book software in Boston. Choksi is a serial entrepreneur and former MIT Blackjack guy who sold his e-book reader company, Lexcycle (maker of the iPhone app Stanza), to Amazon in 2009.

So where do Threepress and Safari go from here? Daly will become Safari’s vice president of engineering, and Savikas says she already leads a team of “some of the best in the world at thinking about browser-based reading” and “how to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”

Overall the deal sounds like a key talent acquisition designed to put Safari Books Online (and O’Reilly and Pearson) at the forefront of a new wave of e-books and digital publishing—one that is bound to be as messy as ever, with competing standards, platforms, and ideas about how to handle digital rights management.

“The Web is changing pretty quickly these days, especially when it comes to mobile Web delivery of increasingly rich content,” Savikas says. “Safari has a great 10-year history, but its foundations are in an earlier time in the Web. Bringing in HTML5 and mobile technology [expertise] gives us a richer skill set to help make the most of the opportunity.”

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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