Prepared Remarks by Ray Kammer
Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Opening Remarks: Electronic Book Conference
October 8, 1998
- Let me welcome you to the National Institute of Standards and Technology and to the first government sponsored conference on Electronic Books. This is the first conference ever where major portable electronic book developers have gathered in one place for this kind of discussion. I understand that we expect a total of well over 300 participants in this conference, which is really remarkable!!! It says something about the future of electronic books. Perhaps what it says is that the future is now. Let's just look at some data:
- U.S. book sales totaled over $21 billion in 1997, reflecting a 2.4% increase over 1996, according to the Association of American Publishers. Couple those statistics with the fact that 55 million people in the U.S. over the age of 12 use the World Wide Web [International Communications Headcount Website], and it is easy to envision the potential market for Electronic Books eventually reaching $70 billion a year. [Veronis, Suhler, and Associates]
- For those of you who haven't been to NIST before or who have not worked with us, I'd like to briefly tell you about our efforts. Our mission is to promote economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards. As they say, "easier said than done."
- We work through a portfolio of four programs:
Measurement and Standards Laboratories, which include the Information Technology Laboratory -- the main force behind this conference. Our labs focus on the technical infrastructure underlying new and mature technologies. We work in areas ranging from electronics and advanced manufacturing to physics, chemistry and fire and building research. We have hundreds of laboratory research who serve as technical experts taking part in the voluntary standards process.
- In particular, the Information Technology Laboratory has focused in areas of technology important to the diverse technical stakeholders in electronic books including those especially concerned about security, optical/DVD data storage, flat panel display interfaces, WDM & network transmission studies, and software testing. Because information technology is inter-disciplinary, the Information Technology Laboratory has programs that represent both systems and software technologies.
The Advanced Technology Program, or ATP, through which we co-fund with industry R&D that is high-risk yet high payoff. The ATP supports technology -- not product -- development work that industry would not be able to do on its own or not within the same market-critical time-frame. Always, our attention is on R&D that can benefit the economy broadly. Our ATP programs include a focus on digital data storage, information infrastructure for health care, digital video, and advanced learning systems -- areas of special interest to IT professionals.
The Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP. Through the MEP, we support extension centers in all 50 states, providing hands-on technical assistance to smaller manufacturers in order to help them improve their productivity and competitiveness.
The Baldrige National Quality Program -- a program which not only manages the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, but also helps to share information and provide guidelines much more broadly on performance excellence.
- Each of these programs is designed and carried out with industry. We use informal teaming, formal Cooperative R&D Agreements and consortia. We also rely heavily on conferences like this one. In fact, we host more than 100 conferences each year. They usually have one or more goals:
- To share state of the art research and technology information,
- To help set a national research agenda, or
- To get the ball moving on voluntary standards.
- It remains to be seen how this meeting will turn out. You clearly will hear about some pioneering research and product developments. You may or may not decide that there is value and that the timing is right to agree on a research agenda for next generation electronic books. And you just might get the ball moving on voluntary standards for software operating environments, display interfaces, proper storage media and electronic publishing. The decision is yours.
- But let me give you something to think about when it comes to standards. The U.S. is ahead of the game right now when it comes to the emerging field of electronic books. The leaders of this technology are represented here in this room. You have a chance to move ahead together in developing and agreeing on a coherent voluntary standards approach that will help to avoid the terrible waste that we saw in the Beta-VHS debate, and in the ongoing next generation cellular communications standards controversy. You have a chance to decide on a cohesive, coherent approach now -- an approach that ensures usability and market development without the fragmentation and divisiveness that can sometimes take over the standards process.
- About two weeks ago, we cosponsored with the American National Standards Institute, ANSI, the first national "standards summit." The goal was to review the bidding and consider developing a national standards strategy that will help the U.S. to deal with what seems to be an effective European approach embodied in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Right now, ISO and IEC consider themselves to be the nearly exclusive guardians for international standards. In too many instances and in too many ways, U.S. firms are losing ground in the increasingly market-critical world of standards.
- If you don't act soon, U.S. electronic book developers could find themselves in the difficult position of having great technology that is blocked from overseas markets. That could be the case, especially if there are no consensus standards for electronic publishing formats, security, and retrieval.
- So, over the next 2 days, as you discuss critical issues, I urge you not to overlook the matter of standards. You have the opportunity right now to determine your industry's future.
- In closing, I want to end with an offer. NIST is here to help you. The Information Technology Laboratory is willing to work with the electronic book industry to develop voluntary standards, test methods, and test beds to accelerate the proliferation and acceptance of electronic publishing.
- It is our job at NIST to help you succeed, to turn this just-emerging field into a mainstay of U.S. social and economic life in the decades ahead. It is your job to tell us if and how you think we can contribute.
- I wish you a most successful meeting.