Friday, September 14, 2007

.epub: What it Means for Publishers

Nick Bogarty, who has been Executive Director of the International Digital Publishing Federation for the last five years sheds some additional light on the IDPF's recent announcement concerning the .epub format specification.

(Nick recently announced that he is leaving IDPF for a position with Adobe and in fact today is his last day and he is leaving on a high note).

This email was sent to me as well as a number of other interested industry types and Nick kindly allowed me to re-publish it here.

I received emails and calls with regard to the completion of the .epub format standard from the IDPF. I hope the below is somewhat helpful for clarification on what .epub means for the industry. The main question asked in the various correspondence was, "Does this mean that publishers can stop doing multiple conversions?".

For reflowable eBooks, the short answer is "yes". (I say "reflowable" because publishers will still do PDF for fixed-format books if that's what they want).

The long answer is the following:

Software companies who implement .epub handles files in one of two ways:

#1 - The software imports .epub and converts it to an end-user proprietary format. There are a bunch of reasons why a company might do this, the main one being they want their format to do things that aren't covered or possible in .epub.

#2 - The software simply reads (or renders) .epub files which a user can use, similar to how your ipod "reads" MP3 files.

There are many software companies who have publicly expressed support for the specifications. Some have already implemented it, some have implemented parts of it and are working on the rest, and some have said they will but haven't yet. I'm not totally in tune with everyone's development plans and release dates (some understandably don't want anyone to know), but this is roughly what I gather:

  • Adobe Systems - full support for .epub in current release under #2
  • eBook Technologies - full support for .epub in current release under #2
  • OSoft - full support for .epub in current release under #2
  • SONY - full support for .epub in next release (don't know which category, I assume #2)
  • VitalSource - full support for .epub in current release under #1 - taking .epub as an input file from publishers in their repository
  • LibreDigital - full support for .epub in current release under #1 - taking .epub as an input file from publishers in their repository
  • iRex Technologies - future support for .epub (not sure which way they'll implement...assume #2)
  • MobiPocket/Amazon - future support for .epub under Category #1 (I think) - I have no knowledge of Kindle development plans, hopefully they'll do this with the Kindle too - see: Some of .epub has already been implemented in Mobi 6.0.

Notable "I don't knows" include Microsoft and eReader (former Palm Digital Media), but .epub is an open, free and patent-unencumbered standard and I hope all software companies entering the market use .epub as their file format.

My advice to publishers would be to begin to work with their conversion partners to fully understand .epub and how .epub can be effectively produced. I would also have conversations with my distribution and software partners about their support for .epub. Frankly, since there are so many software companies already on board or soon to be on board with .epub, I think this is an excellent opportunity for publishers to begin to TELL their partners and vendors (or set some not too distant future date) that .epub will be the only file format for reflowable eBooks that they will produce and send through distribution. Obviously this is going to reduce conversion costs and, hopefully, increase selection for consumers. Something that time and again they say they want.

.epub provides everything publishers need (and many many software companies will support them) to demand that multiple conversions are a thing of the past.


P.S. I thought this was a good write-up on .epub - here

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