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New Report Reaches the Obvious (And Wrong) Conclusion: There’s No Technical Justification for Incompatible eBook Formats
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  • May 17, 2013
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epub3-logo[1]There’s a new report out today from the EIBF, the European and International Booksellers Federation, which says that they could not find any technical reason to justify proprietary ebook formats.

I read about this in The Bookseller:

The EIBF unveiled the study, commissioned from academics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, at its annual conference in Brussels today (16th May). The EIBF report has the support of European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes, in charge of the Digital Agenda, with the EIBF using the conference to lobby politicians and call for “interoperable e-book formats and interoperable DRM schemes”.

The Federation produced the report following widespread concern that customers buying an e-book from one of the international e-book retailers such as Apple and Amazon, which operate closed ecosystems, “implicitly subscribe to this retailer as their sole future e-book supplier”. This threatens European book culture by stopping customers buying future e-books from privately owned, bricks and mortar, community retailers, the organisation said.

I can see 2 problems with this. First, the organization arguably has a bias in favor of open formats. That is not a complaint but it should be kept in mind. But more importantly, I can point to two practical examples of why proprietary ebook formats are sometimes a better alternative: KF8 and iBooks.

Amazon announced the KF8 format in October 2011 and released it in January 2012. Apple announced iBooks, which I would describe as Apple’s own proprietary version of Epub3, and launched it the same day.

Tell me, how is Epub3 adoption coming along in the major ebookstores?

That open source format was finalized in October 2011, but the only major ebookstore that currently supports it is Apple. I know that Sony supports some Epub3 features (but not all) in their ebookstore, and that Kobo is working on adopting Epub3 support. Nook didn’t  support the format in January, and I don’t think they have added support in the meantime.

So what we have here are 2 proprietary ebook formats which were launched pretty damn quickly and an open format that still hasn’t been fully adopted 20 months after it was finalized. Basically the fact that Epub3 hasn’t been widely adopted can be taken as an argument that it is technically difficult to implement. That would lead me to think that at least one conclusion from the report is simply not true:

Professors Christoph Blasi and Franz Rothlauf, who conducted the study, found there were no technical barriers to establishing EPUB 3 as an open e-book format standard, and therefore no functional reason for the continued use of proprietary e-book formats. Although the lack of reader applications able to display all EPUB 3 features remains a short-term obstacle, that will soon be resolved by the Readium initiative being developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), Blasi and Rothlauf found.

Could someone explain why there is “no functional reason for the continued use of proprietary e-book formats”? I think I just gave you a couple.

P.S. If someone can offer a good reason why I am wrong, I will buy that person dinner when I am in NYC for BEA 2012. In lieu of dinner I will pay $100 for a convincing argument.

The post New Report Reaches the Obvious (And Wrong) Conclusion: There’s No Technical Justification for Incompatible eBook Formats appeared first on The Digital Reader, a site you can support by shopping at Amazon.


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