LARKSPUR -- Steve McKinney and his partner Ron Severdia are big believers in the future of publishing -- electronic publishing, that is.

Both published authors, they're familiar with the long, painful process between the idea for a good book as it springs from the writer's brain and a finished book in a reader's hands.

"Finding a publisher is just a start," said Mr. McKinney, who wrote the children's book "Meet Me in Dreamland" with his wife, Valerie. "Then there's the endless editing and formatting before it finally goes off to Asia to be printed, with the accompanying expenses for paper and ink."

[caption id="attachment_82540" align="alignleft" width="216"] Steve McKinney[/caption]

"The entire print book industry is hugely, heartbreakingly wasteful. The future of the printed work lies in e-books," said Mr. McKinney.

Publishing industry analysts agree. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that trade (consumer, not educational or academic) e-books will drive $8.2 billion in sales by 2017 -- surpassing projected print book sales, which it thinks will shrink by more than half during that period. PwC also projects that e-books will make up 38 percent of all book sales -- both trade and educational books -- by 2017, from 16 percent today.

Forrester Research predicts that Europe will be the largest e-book market in the world by 2017, with revenues of $19 billion; North America and Asia Pacific will follow.

Seeing the writing on the Web in 2010, the two authors decided to harness Mr. Severdia's website design expertise and Mr. McKinney's experience in software-as-a-service -- he founded a cloud-based health care software company -- to help authors convert their work to electronic formats.

 "The technical question was, what format will prove the most useful? Will e-books be apps or files? We decided on the file format and chose the open EPUB standard," said Mr. McKinney.

After tweaking their own conversion and formatting tools to a high degree of functionality they realized they had a marketable product for publishers as well as writers.

Named for Chaucer, considered by many to be the father of English literature, the software found an immediate market among publishers and digital content creators.

In just three years Metrodigi (metrodigi.com) has amassed an impressive roster of customers, including HBO, HarperCollins, Pearson, Mcgraw-Hill, Reader's Digest, Random House, Scholastic, Time, Sports Illustrated, NBC, The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

An early adapter was Guinness World Records, which just released its second interactive e-book edition.

 "Metrodigi came highly recommended by another publisher and we really liked what they had done in this space and their enthusiasm for our content," said Frank Chambers, vice president of publishing at Guinness World Records in the U.K.

 Metrodigi, he said, excelled in the incorporation of galleries, videos, popovers and other interactive effects.

"We were really keen to add in custom features such as the ability to collect virtual cards which could then be shared via social media. We also added a fun element of unlocking extra content through a quiz," said Mr. Chambers.

Finding ways for readers to play with, create and share content is Metrodigi's forte, and the reason the partners are excited to be pioneers in the space.

"Interactive text books are the frontier of education," said Mr. McKinney. "They enhance learning in countless ways. All that's lacking now is a direct link to the teacher, from a quiz or other interaction. We have the capability to deploy that technology; we're waiting for educators to see its value and demand it."

Metrodigi, funded by private investors, currently employs 40 in its Larkspur Landing headquarters. The partners expect that number to grow to about 75 by the year's end and to 100 in 2014.

"We're on the lookout for highly creative software engineers," said Mr. McKinney.

The partners are also pushing hard for industry standards throughout trade and education publishing so the e-book experience is the same regardless of which device the reader uses.

"We hope that by using Chaucer content creators will publish in a standardized format that will be available not years, but millennia to come," said Mr. McKinney.