One Step Closer to the Open eBook Tipping Point: O’Reilly Joins the EPUB 3.0 Ecosystem - ConsortiumInfo.org
"Anyone who reads eBooks is aware that a number of content vendors are using proprietary platforms in an effort to lock you into their content libraries: most obviously, Amazon, with its Kindle line, Barnes & Noble with its Nook devices, and Apple with its iPads and iPhones. But there are many non-content vendors that would love to sell you an eReader as well, such as Kobo, and Pocketbook, not to mention the smartphone vendors that would be happy to have you use their devices as eReaders, too. But can you? Well, as you’re probably also aware, that depends. For example, in addition to selling content that will play only on their devices, Amazon and Apple also produce versions of their content that can be viewed on the readers of their competitors as well. All of this not only makes it confusing and limiting for eBook buyers, but also for content publishers large (like Random House) and small (like technical title boutique publisher O’Reilly), that have seen their traditional distribution models not only upended by the eBook revolution, but complicated by the proprietary antics of the Amazons of the world. Meanwhile, eBooks themselves frequently leave out features that their print versions include (e.g., less often used and/or more complicated formatted features, such as tables), and what they do contain often displays poorly on some readers, notwithstanding the effort that authors and intermediaries put into formatting their files for the greatest variety of platforms and distribution channels possible ... Wouldn’t it be far better for the consumer if everyone could read everyone’s content on everyone’s reader – just like an MP3 file (and, come to think of it, don’t you remember a time, long ago, when music players were proprietary, too?) Couldn’t someone come up with, I don’t know, like, a standard to do that? The answer, of course, is not only yes, but they already have... Unlike plain text and PDF, the EPUB format was created expressly, and only, to optimize the creation and interoperable use of eBooks. It was developed by a consortium called the International Digital Publishing Forum, or IDPF.org. Theoretically, if every platform vendor faithfully supported the current version of EPUB without adding proprietary extensions, then you could buy eBooks anywhere and use them on anything – a Kindle, an Android Phone, a Nook, a laptop, or wherever... If you were an author, it would (eventually) get to be far easier to create an eBook as well, because word processessers would allow you to save files in the most current version of the EPUB standard, and every vendor’s device would presumably display your book properly if you’d done a proper job of creating your files. And your eBook could provide a richer reading experience as well. So why isn’t that the way it is now? The easy answer is because the proprietary vendors don’t want it that way ... But there’s another missing piece, which is whether or not the marketplace will commit to using the newest version of the EPUB standard – version 3.0, which can allow eBooks to more completely and easily match the features of print books. And that’s not a small task, since it requires some heavy lifting at the publisher’s end, all of which will be wasted if the eReader vendors don’t add support for EPUB 3.0 as well. So, like the Semantic Web, there’s a chicken and egg, tipping point issue here. And the question for the last year has been which way will it go – with the world commit to EPUB 3.0, or, like the Semantic Web, will key players be unwilling to commit? Which brings us, at last, to the topic promised by the title to this entry: O’Reilly has not only taken the plunge, but also posted a very informative blog entry outlining how they came to the conclusion that it was time to make the leap, what the factors were that influenced their timing, and the implementational decisions they made in the process of building in EPUB 3.0 support – such as whether to make compliant files backwardly compatible for use on devices that support only EPUB 2.0 ..."