Definition and Description

The Standard Template for Electronic Publishing is a file format designed for the storage of electronic Bible reference books. While STEP was designed for Bible reference books, its format is suitable for the publication of any electronic book. Any book in any language can be produced in the STEP format.

The text and Bible references in STEP books are fully indexed for fast searching.

Much of the power of STEP is not so much in the design of its file structure or indexing mechanisms, but rather in the unique consortium which created and support it. By creating a file format supported by a number of Bible software companies, BSISG has made it possible for consumers to build portable libraries of reference books. As users' needs change, they can switch software products without leaving their favorite reference books behind. Similarly, they don't have to depend on any one software company to provide the reference books they need for their studies.

STEP For Consumers

If you are a consumer of Bible software, STEP means:
  • You now have the ability to create a portable library of reference books. Don't worry about having to re-purchase all your books and Bibles when you switch software products - just take your STEP books with you!
  • You now have dozens of publishers working to create add-ons for your Bible software. You don't have to wait for one company to get around to your favorite author - his or her publisher may already be doing a STEP version of the books you're waiting for!
  • More powerful searching and cross-referencing than you've been accustomed to in most Bible software.

STEP For Book Publishers

If you are a book publisher thinking about electronic publishing, STEP means:
  • You have the ability to self-publish using STEP, thereby collecting 100% of the revenue from the sales of your product rather than just a royalty.
  • Your product can be used by the customers of several Bible software products rather than limiting your reach to only those customers of any one software product.
  • STEP understands Bible reference books and supports links to Bible verses and searching based on Bible passages. Generic electronic publishing options (like Adobe Acrobat) can not recognize Bible verses and will never be as powerful.
  • More options for tagging, bundling, marketing, etc. since many companies have STEP technology.
  • Even if you still choose to license, licensing your books for publishing in STEP gives you all the above benefits and hence more royalty potential than licensing to one company for publication in their proprietary format.

STEP For Bible Software Publishers

If you are a software publisher thinking about making your product STEP-compatible, STEP means:
  • Your customers have access to hundreds of add-on titles, increasing the value of your product
  • You have the opportunity to create and add powerful content to your application without creating it yourself
  • You have the opportunity to be on the leading edge of Christian electronic publishing even if your product is relatively new to this market
  • Exposure of your product through the efforts of BSISG to market STEP itself

History of STEP

STEP began at a Christian publishing house. Loizeaux Brothers Publishers is one of many small publishers that have a large number of Bible reference books upon which it depends for its continued financial success. As the management of Loizeaux looked five, ten, fifteen years down the road they saw one thing very clearly: Electronic publishing - especially for reference books - was an unavoidable aspect of their future.

At that time (1994) the typical way that Christian book publishers entered electronic publishing was to contact one of the Bible software companies. Reference books would be licensed to the software publisher in return for a percentage of the sales of the electronic versions of the books. So Loizeaux began to talk to software publishers.

These discussions led to two inescapable conclusions: First, there were few choices as to who to do business with. To make matters worse, not all the companies had great reputations, nor had the financial wherewithal to assure they'd be in business five years down the road. No single company had the size of customer base that Loizeaux would need in order to sell enough units to make electronic publishing work.

The second conclusion they came to was that they weren't going to be able to pay the bills on royalty income alone. Even if they licensed their works to every software publisher, income from royalties was going to be insufficient to support the entire company. Once paper books became obsolete, they'd face becoming obsolete along with them.

The answer to these problems seemed to be to find a way to self-publish in a format that would be compatible with all the software products currently available. That way, Loizeaux could collect 100% of the revenue from the sales of their books but still have the benefit of reaching all the customers of Bible software without having to lock into doing business with any one of them.

Peter Bartlett, President of Loizeaux, began to attack the problem on several levels. First, he talked to other Christian publishers to find out what they were thinking. He found that most shared his concerns. All were interested in finding a way to self-publish but still have the benefit of being compatible with existing software. Second, he charged Jim VanDuzer, his Business Office Manager and resident "computer guy," with talking to software companies about a common data format. And third, he began to think about the requirements that any solution would have to meet in order to be acceptable.

Jim VanDuzer was a user of Seedmaster (now the Bible Companion Series) from White Harvest Software. He liked the simple sophistication offered by the program. Jim gave White Harvest a call to discuss the possibility of developing a common data format.

White Harvest president Scott Musser explained how he had been working with Parsons Technology to add capabilities to Seedmaster to permit it to communicate with Parsons' PC Bible Atlas. Since Parsons publishes the specifications for how to communicate with PC Bible Atlas and its other Bible software, it's relatively easy for other programs to create powerful connections to Parsons software. Scott took advantage of this de facto standard to add PC Bible Atlas compatibility to his software. Jim thought this open standard might be the beginning of what he was looking for, and Scott knew that Parsons would have to be involved if the standard was going to be successful.

Scott called Craig Rairdin at Parsons Technology. Craig was intrigued by the suggestion of a common data format. He had talked to NavPress software several years prior to this concerning the possibility of common data formats but the conversations had not come to any conclusions. On the basis of this experience, he doubted that the companies involved could ever agree on a common format, but was willing to talk further.

Before long, representatives of Biblesoft, NavPress, White Harvest, Parsons, and Loizeaux were beginning to put together a rough outline of what would become STEP. Peter Bartlett established the goals of how the process of creating STEP books would have to fit into the book production process, giving the group a unique book publisher's perspective - something that would have been missing had STEP been the product of only the software companies. Parsons took the technical lead, designing the "tags" that would be applied during the editorial process and the file format that is the core of STEP. NavPress defined the process of encrypting STEP books so that they could be "locked" on CD.

The STEP specification evolved through electronic collaboration between the companies. A private BBS and Internet email provided the forum for discussion of each aspect of the new data format. Several alternatives were considered before the group settled in on the basic assumptions that would form the STEP specification: Microsoft's Rich Text Format as the basic method of conveying text layout and Unicode for language support.

The group announced its intentions to create the Bible Software Industry Standards Group (BSISG) in July 1995. Seven companies announced their intention to eventually support STEP in their products.

The first draft of the STEP specification was distributed at that time. Biblesoft decided at that point not to make its intentions regarding STEP public. (One year later, in July 1996, they announced their intention to create STEP-compatible software at some point in the future.) Logos Research Systems made a strong stand against supporting STEP in its products.

The early commitment of White Harvest, NavPress and Parsons to create STEP-compatible "book readers" was the key element that made STEP work. Each learned early in the process that they could trust each other in this somewhat daring, open exchange of technical information and marketing plans. Each company committed resources that could have been dedicated to competition and applied them to cooperation.

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Copyright 1999 by the Bible Software Industry Standards Group (BSISG). All Rights Reserved.