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Publishing start-up captures Adobe veteran

Adobe co-founder and Chairman John Warnock joins the board of directors for his son's online research publishing start-up.

Adobe co-founder and Chairman John Warnock has joined the board of directors of online research start-up Ebrary, the company said Monday.

Ebrary, which lets people research and read articles and books online for free but charges for printed copies, said Warnock's expertise in software, e-publishing and graphic design will help the company expand its business.

The company also announced Monday that it will make its online collection of books, journals, periodicals and other publications available through channel partners, search engines and links. It added, however, that it has yet to ink any channel partners.

Ebrary and its competitors are struggling to capture a piece of the online research publishing market. Last week, Houston-based Questia Media, which places books in digital formats and makes them available to students and researchers on a subscription basis, laid off 139 employees out of a 283-member staff in an effort to cut costs. Questia said it decided to limit the number of books it would convert into digital format and, as a result, laid off most of the workers involved in that process.

With Monday's announcement, Warnock, who is an investor in Ebrary, joins his son, Christopher Warnock, who serves as the company's chief executive. The Adobe co-founder said he has been following the company since it started, and Ebrary's business model has a "very positive potential" because it gives people the ability to browse through books before buying them or making any commitments.

Ebrary's service allows students and researchers to scour full-text documents derived from its collection of books, periodicals, maps and other documents. The setup duplicates many of the functions of a typical research library with no checkout privileges but access to a copy machine. Reference and textbook research, according to some analysts, is a good digital publishing move because consumers haven't fully warmed up to e-books yet.

"Ebrary's challenge is to get distribution of this service through partners so that it's in front of students when they need it," said Forrester Research analyst Daniel O'Brien. "When you have tens of thousands of titles, it's sort of a black box from a searching standpoint. And if you can bubble up the most relevant material to the audience, you're better off. It's almost as if you're showing the covers of the book rather than the spine to people that are looking for information."

In October, publishing houses Random House, Pearson and McGraw-Hill invested in Ebrary. A month later, the online publisher inked a deal with London-based Taylor & Francis, an international academic publisher, to offer more than 17,000 research titles online.

"This is completely different than the e-book market," Warnock said. "I sort of agree that e-books will take off very, very slowly. But the ability to browse the information in books and search information in books I think is going to take off and change university libraries and the way people access information on the Net."

Warnock, who co-founded Adobe in 1982, was instrumental in building the publishing software company into a $1.4 billion business with co-founder Chuck Geschke. Ebrary said it uses Adobe's PDF (portable document format) technology to present documents in their original layout.