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Old 01-02-2010, 08:31 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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A New Year's reflection on the ePub e-book format

Not too many years back, we all lamented the state of e-book formats and longed for an open industry standard. Many of you will remember the day when the best interoperability between purchased e-books and reading devices was the proprietary eReader or MobiPocket format support on multiple platforms. Well described by David Rothman as the Tower of eBabel, the format wars didn't seem to have room for an industry standard format that was useful for consumers, retailers and publishers alike.

Fast forward to the start of 2010, and the growing industry support for ePub is an impressive accomplishment. Sure, there are still competing formats from Kindle, Microsoft, eReader, etc. And there will always be .txt, rtf, html, pdf, etc. But the increasing support of ePub for so many dedicated readers and e-book software applications is delightful for almost any fan of e-books. Some of you long time members of MobileRead probably even remember where it came from, based on the coverage here.

I will leave it to others to write the history of e-books (and I hope that many will document all the interesting twists and turns and provide many insider stories about the important steps along the way), and maybe even correct any distorted views of history that I may have. But I do want to remember and appreciate the accomplishments of one person who many may not have even heard about - Nick Bogaty.

Nick, now with Adobe, was the Executive Director of the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) from 2002-2007. His mission was to create an industry standard format and container (to hold all the files associated with an e-book for distribution). Many felt progress was too slow. Many felt that they would come up with something, but it would never be relevant. Many criticized the effort saying that we have too many formats already, and all a new IDPF format would do is add to the format confusion with yet another format. Most certainly, there were also many voices and opinions, making consensus a difficult challenge.

I don't know exactly who did what in the trenches, but say what you will, I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to Nick Bogaty and all the members of the IDPF team, as well as all the additional contributors who were unofficially a help to the work, as well as others on whose shoulders the work of ePub stands. It is significant to say the IDPF got the job done. So much so, that I it is often said these days that ePub is the industry standard e-book format. Feathers might be ruffled, and some may argue that it's not dominant enough, but it's hard to argue its place altogether as a significant e-book standard now.

So the next time you buy or load up a book in ePub with the luxury of reading it on a multitude of platforms and devices, you'll know that it didn't just appear out of nowhere. It came from many origins, and yet directly from the IDPF. When e-books are more common across the world than even mp3s, I hope that these people will be remembered for their part in moving e-books forward.

And to all those industry historians out there... start writing down your notes. The coming of e-books is much too important a story to let it pass you by!
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