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Compaq founder pushes for academic library online

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Net researcher bulks up its library

November 19, 2001
CARLSBAD, Calif.--Ever wonder where Compaq founder Rod Canion is? He's with Questia Media, which wants to bring a university-class library to a high school near you.

The Houston-based company is gathering academic and textbook publishers like John Wiley and Sons and putting their works on the Web. For $20 a month, or $100 for a full-year subscription, individuals can get full access to peer-review articles, textbooks and other academic publications online. High schools can access the database too, for about 85 percent of the cost, said CEO Troy Williams.

Rod Canion Rod Canion

At the moment, the roughly 150,000 Questia subscribers can download 65,000 books accessible through the site, he said.

Canion is an investor and serves as chairman. Canion and Williams are attendees at PC Forum, a three-day conference taking place here through Tuesday.

The company is trying to navigate through the errors of e-publishing discovered back in the go-go Internet days of the 1990s when companies dreamed of selling novels and other tomes on the Net for people to read as portable e-books. Questia was founded back then too and endured layoffs, but has the same focus now that it did then and has survived.

The e-publishing dream failed, in part, said Williams, because few people wanted to read novels on a heavy, expensive piece of hardware when paperbacks were available. Questia differs from that model because it focuses on often hard-to-find research periodicals that people need to consult for conducting research, rather than pleasure reading. People are more willing, Williams said, to read this sort of information on a desktop or notebook.

A substantial portion of the material available through Questia is copyright and published with permission of the copyright holders. Still, the company must negotiate through a variety of contingencies with publishers. Giving high school libraries discount subscriptions, which all students at the school can access, is easy: Academic publishers generally want students to be interested in research, and the students wouldn't subscribe to most of the publications (or buy the textbooks) offered through Questia anyway, Williams said. The hope is that high schoolers who used the service through their school library will become individual subscribers eventually.

PC Forum 2006

Selling subscriptions to college libraries is different. Many academic publishers rely on selling subscriptions to fellow institutions. Those deals, however, are being hammered out. Google, for example, has cut deals to publish the works in the libraries of a few select universities but the plan has run into controversy because of protests from authors, who claim that the university libraries do not have the legal right to let the search giant republish copyright material.

Although most people haven't heard of Questia, Google has. Questia was one of the early big purchasers of AdWords on Google. CEO Eric Schmidt called once a few years ago to ask who they were and what they were up to, Williams recalled.

Canion's involvement in Questia came through Houston Technology Center, an incubator he is a part of. Canion is also an investor in BlueArc, a storage start-up.

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The timing is right for portability too
With the announcement at CES of devices which use high-
resolution E Ink screens, such as the forthcoming Sony Reader:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

... the time is right for eBooks fulfilling their dream.

With storage for at least 80-100 books (with many more after
popping in a high capacity SD card), you could carry an entire
library with you in the size and weight of a normal back.

Sit under a tree and read for hours on a paper like display.

I just hope the publishers' paranoid ideas about DRM don't kill
the concept (again). The Sony Reader has some nasty Sony DRM
scheme attached to their Sony Connect book store, but the
device does also support PDF, so hopefully that will make it
possible to store books such as the ones in the article.
Posted by dotmike (154 comments )
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the killer advantage is search
As with any technology application, there has to be some benefit that is entirely new or orders of magnitude better than existing technology. The article points out the weak or non-existent advantage of an electronic book on a lunky portable vs a paperback. However,adding the capability to search, even with simple keywords, for directed enquiry, such as academics do, is something that is extremely onerous when done by a human with a stack of books but easy and quick with Google-like access to a series of files. The restrictions of copyright isolates so much valuable content that Questia's service of bringing out and aggregating this content can be a viable business users are willing to pay for.
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