Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

E pluribus EPub?

Joe Wikert, whose digital publishing savvy graces Publishers Weekly and O’Reilly TOC as well as his own blog, has been pushing lately for a more open ebook market.

In two recent online articles, Mr. Wikert discussed the need for ebooks to break free of the bonds of proprietary devices and DRM. But in each of them he proposed a different solution, and even though the solutions are both variations on the same universal language theme, I found one of them quite unique.

One post appeared both on Publishers Weekly and O’Reilly TOC; in it, Mr. Wikert argues that it’s time for a unified ebook format, and suggests EPub may be the answer: “It’s a popular format based on web standards, and it’s developed and maintained by an organization [the International Digital Publishing Forum] that’s focused on openness and broad industry adoption,” he wrote. Ebooks would become a bit more like print books, in that any ebook purchased from any vendor could be read on any device.

It seems like this would probably be the most popular option, for readers, anyway. After we published two posts about iBooks Author, for example, the most common searches that led people to our site were people trying to figure out how to convert .iba to .epub (sorry if your search led you to the wrong brand of nerd). People seem to want a more shareable, open format.

The issue with this solution, of course, would be to get Amazon to accept EPub. And for Barnes & Noble to accept that somebody could buy an ebook from Amazon to read on her Nook.

Mr. Wikert’s other suggestion followed that same idea, but flipped it on its head: since Amazon isn’t likely to adopt EPub anytime soon, why shouldn’t Barnes & Noble and Apple and Google eBooks start selling .mobi? If the owners of their devices can’t purchase books from Amazon, why not entice Kindle owners to shop elsewhere for books? If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, maybe Muhammad must add .mobi.

It’s pretty sneaky, and that must be why I like it. But seriously, it makes a lot of sense. As proprietary formats abound, it’s going to be difficult to force all of the content peddlers to adopt the same format. But if we could just encourage different formats to be accepted on any device, it might actually be beneficial to some of these companies, who would have access to a whole new pool of customers.

I’m especially looking at you, Apple. Come on. Nobody’s going to buy an iPad just to be able to look at iBooks Author-created ebooks. If you can’t let us convert ’em to .epub, at least sell an app that lets people read these things on other tablets. People might actually use iBookstore if it was a little more like iTunes and less of an exclusive club for fanciful tablet owners.

What do you think? Is either scenario likely to play out, or are we stuck with closed formats for now?


This entry was posted on February 15, 2012 by in Opinion, Technology and tagged , , , , , , .

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