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From the publisher to the reader - A digital library for the visually impaired

Catherine Desbuquois
BrailleNet Association, France


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As a librarian, I have been seconded by the Direction du livre et de la lecture (Books and Reading Department) to the BrailleNet Association to carry out a contractual policy for publishers, in order to facilitate the production and reading of adapted books for visually impaired persons. The first part of this mission is to load an Internet server with copyrighted books as digital files, to which authorized transcribers can gain access via a secured protocol - this is the server « Hélène ».
The second part, which logically follows the first, is to allow the readers themselves to access digital reading matter, while at the same time maintaining the service to the transcribers, and giving the publishers the same guarantees - this is the « Hélène » library.
In order to provide answers to these various needs, BrailleNet has adopted for storage and conversion the format XML DTBook, NISO Z39.86, developed by the Daisy consortium.
BrailleNet has set up conversion tools which can, from this XML format, produce the following formats:

The essential technical problem is therefore to provide the server with well structured files in the X.M.L. DTBook format.

This report does not claim to be a particular theory: BrailleNet's procedure is a model, one among others without doubt, of a way of trying out the rationalization and use of the techniques provided by the Internet and the digital world.
Does this model work ? How ? And what is missing in order to improve its efficiency ?

1. Collection constitution: how to load the "Hélène" server

1.1. The transcribers' requests

The 57 partners of the "Hélène" server send their requests punctually for negotiating the rights and supplying of the corresponding files: this is usually for general reading books (adults and children); requests for school books are made by the INJA (National Institute for the Young Blind).

1.2. Readers' requests

The readers of the "Hélène" library are also able to ask for the purchase of new titles, as in any other public libraries.

1.3 Seeking out various titles and events

The bibliographical management of the server is ensured by a professional librarian who uses the usual information tools: "Livres-Hebdo" (the publishers'/libraries'/librarians' weekly review), the usual press reviews as well as visits to the bookshops...
The public aimed at is wide: children (from 5/6 years old) and adults: the collection is made of fiction and documentaries, events of the moment or not, best sellers, for a large public, studying, educated, curious.

2. Relationship with the publishers

2.1. Contractual policy

Before the "Hélène" server was set up, publishers used to give their authorization on a punctual basis, with a written assent of the transcriber's letter, and sometimes for a limited number of printed copies (Braille mostly, eventually in large-print). If there was no reply, this meant a refusal on a juridical basis. If the publisher received several demands, he could give his agreement to the first transcriber, and refuse to give it to the following: this practice still exists nowadays among publishers who refuse to cooperate with the server, or those who have many interlocutors without seeking some sort of rationalization.
Since the server "Hélène" was set up as well as a department to deal with the negotiation of copyrights, there is a tendency to simplify matters: one interlocutor only for both the publishers and the transcribers.
However, it seems that contracts have an impact on the working of each publishing house, which now have to ask each author for his agreement, which they did not do before, at least not systematically.
Another difficulty, a contractual relationship creates a legal framework: for a title written by a foreign author for which the publisher does not have the derived rights, and with whom it is difficult to be in touch, it means that the publisher now simply refuses to accept this demand, influenced by the thought of inflexible American lawyers and fearsome literary agents.
This contractual policy cast a light on an adapted publishing activity which both authors and publishers have ignored for many years.

2.2. Difference between contracts and conventions + modifications

BrailleNet proposes 3 contracts:

3. Royalties

3.1. Files

The cost of files varies (from 0 to 80 euros) or on the contrary is always the same (stipulated by contract, for example 80 euros whatever the size of the book).
Some publishers never ask for payment, without any negotiation or explanation whatsoever... Others have various fees, and always let you know beforehand if the cost is more than the usual one.
A large publishing house sent a pre-invoice before delivery, in which certain files of novels reached an amount of 1,200 euros without tax, the price of the file for the publishers of paperbacks: needless to say that BrailleNet did not go any further!

3.2. Transcriptions

The contracts state that the amount of the royalties for the copyright is 7% of the price of the book without tax as sold in bookshops per adapted copy (Braille or large-print) effectively made.
Transcribers must therefore declare - via the server - the number of copies produced in the year. The Statistics module of the "Hélène" server provides the necessary accounts for the payment of these royalties, and prints them automatically.
The above-mentioned amounts may appear insignificant or else outrageous: it seems that a number of publishers mean to keep this arrangement.

3.3. Digital loan

BrailleNet has submitted a proposal for an agreement known as "right of digital loan" to several publishers who are partners of the "Hélène" server.
In view of the actual lack of legal background, BrailleNet suggests a remuneration of 0,10 euros per borrowed book: this amount to be paid by the association out of its budget, it being understood that the subscription and the loan are free for the readers.
Several publishers are examining this proposal. One of them has answered and accepted all the terms of the agreement.

4. Reception and file treatment

4.1. Publishers' files: percentage of files received, delays in delivery

However, these files are not obtained systematically, even in the case of a good and regular relationship with a publisher; when a publisher has signed an authorization or a contract, 90% of the files are obtained.
It is also difficult to foresee the delay in he delivery of the files, this may be a few days or several months...
The files are obtained, depending on each case, through the legal department which deals with copyrights, the internal manufacturing department, the compositor who works at home, or the printer.

4.1.1. Formats

Very often we receive MSWord format files (Doc, RTF). This represents approximately 50% of the total amount. These are files provided by the authors, before the stage of re-reading and the making up. Alterations are often made afterwards. We also receive P.D.F. files (30% approx.) and XPress files (20%).

4.2. Transcribers' files

A large number of files are loaded in the "Hélène" server by the transcribing organizations and remain in a temporary database waiting for the publishers' agreement. The reason for this is simple: most of the transcribers typeset the documents without a contract or a negotiation with the copyright holders. For example, the temporary database contains as of today 472 titles (with attached files) for which the regularization requests have not been granted.
A few very scrupulous publishers do not accept that BrailleNet should issue files that are not "controlled" and whose integrity might be doubtful.

4.2.1. Formats

Most of the time, transcribers provide files with MSWord (Doc) format, but also text, BrailleStar (grade 1 or 2), Abrotec, P.C.B., B.B.R. files which correspond to the various Braille printing softwares.
For one single title, the transcriber often sends several files which correspond to the various chapters of the book, or to the volumes in Braille.

4.3. Conversions

The XPress files are converted - via Adobe InDesign - in P.D.F. files, then run through OCR software (ABBY Fine Reader) and converted into R.T.F.
The aim for BrailleNet being to offer all the books in the collection in an X.M.L. format, from which all users can then produce the necessary applications, so computer experts have written a Word macro to make the manual structuring of the files easier. This macro allows the file to be exported in a rich and structured R.T.F. format which can then be automatically transformed into X.M.L. on the "Hélène" server. The X.M.L. format obtained can then, upon request, be generated into the following formats:

One must note that the use of the macro is not fully automatic: the proof reading (misprints, cuts and mistakes), the manual typesetting of notes and the structure in chapters, subchapters, annexes, etc. can take up a great deal of time.
In a large majority publishers are little aware of these questions dealing with digital books and really only care about the question of security.

5. Bibliographical notes

These bibliographical notes can have up to 11 fields:

In order to allow the users of the "Hélène" library to find the books easily; BrailleNet will set up in the months to come a request software which will allow search by subject(s) and genre(s) for books.


If a large number of publishers have accepted the model proposed by BrailleNet, there are many who have still to be convinced. What is proposed above has the advantage of guaranteeing their rights, on a contractual basis, and to constitute an only window.
Transcribers use the service and the server on a more and more regular basis, in so far as the answer and the delay correspond to their needs. As for the readers, it is still too early to know whether they are satisfied or not: the coming year will be a crucial one.
What is still missing in our model before it becomes a national service, which was the initial objective of the Ministry of Culture and Communication in 2001 ?
The new copyright law which is due to come may constitute a favorable legal framework (or not), the performances of the software and technical tools may perhaps contribute towards an improvement of the service and its duration for the benefit of visually impaired people.
But the essential point, in my view, is the general attitude of the publishing world which must be persuaded of the general interest of reading for everybody, and therefore of the absolute necessity to help the circulation of the digital sources in a clear legal and economical framework.
Finally, the public authorities must officially legitimate the measures that have been taken by including it, why not?, in the important project of an "European digital library" undertaken by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

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