Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Readers are the winners with the new IDPF eBook open standards

This is a first – the first in a series of blog articles written by Gigi’s friends, associates and the eBooks About staff. Contributors are welcome –please contact Gigi with ideas, articles and comments! I want your participation! This piece is by FOG (friend of Gigi) Karsten Molinaro. Check his profile!

eBook formats have always been confusing, and a sore point for eBook buyers. Other than Adobe PDF, there has never been anything remotely close to an industry standard eBook format.

I know of at least 20 mutually incompatible, propriety formats that have been used over the years, many of which are now defunct! The losers, of course, are eBook buyers who find the eBook they bought yesterday can no longer be read today, while paper books are timeless.

Adobe PDF

PDF is the most recognized "defacto open" format for eBooks. The problem is that anyone who wants to read a PDF document on screen displays (desktops and handheld devices) often finds that PDF is very limiting, and even frustrating.

PDF was developed to preserve formatting and make electronic documents look exactly like paper ones. It does this by "hard wiring" the text onto a fixed size page. Great for printing.

But what if the electronic display is of a much different size than the page (usually much smaller), which is oftentimes the case? And what if the end-user would like to adjust typography like the font size and the font itself, and have the content "retypeset" in an optimal way? With PDF this can't realistically be done.

The need for the format to "reflow" the text is an important one for eBook users. Is there such a reflowable, permanent, open standard that the eBook industry may embrace? One which is designed to provide for the important needs of both publishers and end-users?

EPUB to the Rescue

Fortunately, there finally is! The new International Digital Publishing Forum’s (IDPF), “EPUB standard”. The IDPF represents a wide range of stakeholders in the eBook industry and has recently released a set of fully open industry standards which underly EPUB. I'm proud to have been one of the primary technical contributors to this major effort.

EPUB, based upon well-developed open standards, including those used for web pages, now provides for the important needs of both publishers and eBook readers: permanence, open standards, reflowability, accessibility, and high typographic quality. The ultimate winners of this new standard will be you, the eBook reader.

Many publishers are eagerly embracing the EPUB standard, and are now reformatting their content in the new format. Even Adobe recognizes the limitation of PDF for eBook use. They have been a major player in the development of the new IDPF standards. In fact they have already released Digital Editions, which displays EPUB eBooks.

The Future

Admittedly, the copy protection (DRM) side of EPUB has yet to be shaken out. But we expect to see a large number of unencumbered EPUB eBooks released, and believe that the eBook industry will eventually forego the use encryption for most books, which is where we see the music industry now headed.

So when do we see EPUB eBooks being sold through eBooks About Everything?

No one can really know, yet. What we do know that the industry is quickly moving in that direction, and we hope that eBooks About will be able to offer EPUB titles in the near future. Gigi will most certainly let you know when it happens!

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