New EPUB spec gives tech companies the edge

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.

4 thoughts on “New EPUB spec gives tech companies the edge

  1. Pingback: Test drive: Readium e-reading demo app off to great start: Librarians please note | LibraryCity

  2. I agree with you conceptually, but I think this plays out differently in “the real world.” While EPUB2 was easy enough for anyone to do with an old pair of scissors and a paperclip, the larger publishers farmed out the service to offshore vendors for about $75/$100 for a straightforward book. They’ll still farm it out, paying up to $500/book. That’s inconsequential compare to print costs (I’m assuming that editorial. design and composition costs remain as is).

    I’d argue that the real cost of technology in publishing is in hiring and holding on to smart staff who can visualize the broad business opportunities that surround publishing in an online world. Those people are expensive. They’re also smart enough to know when to farm out technology grunt-work like ebook production.

    • @Thad, you’re right that hiring and keeping web-savvy staff can be expensive – whether you hire them in or give existing staff opportunities to learn through training and experimentation. One way or another, these increased costs will go to editorial, design and composition. Even if the final coding is done off-shore, initial in-house product development could require UX/UI specialists, game-design experts, and authors and editors capable of integrating text with interactive elements, like geolocation and social networking. I’m talking about frontlist, of course. Backlist conversions will remain off-shored, $100–$500 once-offs.

  3. Pingback: PageLab » ePUB3: a evolução das publicações digitais

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