If you’ve been watching, you’ll know that EPUB 3.0 is here, the new specification for the world’s leading ebook format. The IDPF, which oversees the EPUB 3.0 spec, has announced the open-source Readium Project to get it implemented more quickly.
And goodness knows it needs acceleration. Under EPUB 2.0, even market leaders took their time implementing support for basic features.
Yay, right? Depends who you are.
EPUB 3.0 is a great step forward technologically. It adds “video, audio, interactivity, vertical writing and other global language capabilities, improved accessibility, MathML, and styling and layout enhancements” (IDPF PR).
But for publishers, these possibilities extend the technical skill level required to create market-wowing products. EPUB 3.0 has great bells and important whistles, but you’re going to need actual software-development skills in-house to use them properly. In other words, ebooks just took a big step towards becoming software, rather than elaborate text files.
This is huge for publishing businesses, many of whom are only beginning to get their teams’ heads around reflowable text. Add the need to cost for a software development process to compete in, say, the college market, and you’ve got instant editorial heart failure.
Sure, publishers don’t have to use all these new features, and most won’t need to. But the shift in emphasis in ebook standards – from text to software – is real and significant, and will give companies with tech skills a real advantage at the high end of the market. These companies are not usually publishing companies, either: retail and technology companies (think Apple, Google, Amazon and a host of their startup competitors) are far better placed to seize the day here.