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eBooks and the future of publishing

The ebook publishing industry has become an interesting place to observe how commercial stakeholders battle for control of online content standards in order to further their own agendas. The very future of electronic publishing may well be at stake….

Recently Adobe’s .epub format was declared an ebook standard by the International Digital Publications Forum (IDPF). This may not be surprising to most people, considering that Adobe is a recognised leader in online formats like PDF and Macromedia Flash. However their capture of this standard has raised eyebrows in the blogosphere (e.g. this article in The Register) for several reasons.

First of all IDPF, the standard granting body, is a one employee outfit and its single employee is apparently leaving to join Adobe. Go figure. Secondly, there has been relatively poor uptake or implementation of this standard (apparently even Adobe’s examples are not fully compliant). Which raises the question of why battle for this standard?

The answer, according to The Register, may be for competitive reasons like regulatory adoption of this standard for archiving purposes, which will effectively block the path of competitors like Amazon’s Mobipocket,SamHain publishing, or many genre specific publishers like Baen (Sci-Fi), Ellora’s Cave (Romance).

Currently you can choose to read a typical electronic book in the following formats: HTML, Rocket/Ebookwise, Palm/Mobipocket, PDF, RTF or Microsoft Reader Formats and the list just keeps getting longer.

It is still early days, but the indications are that the publishing industry may end up in a state similar to the music industry if they do not get their electronic publishing formats in order. I wonder if they will succeed. What do you think?

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