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Old 07-20-2010, 08:15 AM   #1
charleski
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Sharp looking to push oddball XMDF format on new LCD readers

Sharp's just revealed two new prototype readers (5.5" and 10.8" and both apparently LCD) and will be partnering with Verizon for content delivery.

The big news is that both will use an xml-based format called XMDF ("ever-eXtending Mobile Document Format"), which is supposedly widely used in Japan for text/graphics composites. The launch video (see below) shows both in action. From what I can glean from the video, this format allows allowed embedded video and animation, pop-up windows and text-specific zooming (we'll nimbly gloss over the ugly fake page-turns).

The odd thing is that it's pretty hard to get any real info on this XMDF format (I don't think it's the same thing as the library for describing river cross-sections). A bit of digging found that it was developed by Sharp and has been formalised as IEC 62448 ed2.0, which is not much use as I'm not about to pay to read the spec. A table of contents is available here, but isn't very informative, though there is an intriguing reference to Ruby.

Source: http://en.akihabaranews.com/54850/e-...n-e-books-tech The video at the bottom (skip the first 1:20) shows the two ebooks in operation, with 4 different publications in total.

Frankly, I hope this fails. The world doesn't need yet another ebook format, and I don't see the point of re-inventing the wheel, since this offers nothing over html5 and javascript (except, maybe, yet another clunky DRM scheme).

Last edited by charleski; 07-20-2010 at 08:17 AM.
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Old 07-20-2010, 08:34 AM   #2
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The odd thing is that it's pretty hard to get any real info on this XMDF format (I don't think it's the same thing as the library for describing river cross-sections). A bit of digging found that it was developed by Sharp and has been formalised as IEC 62448 ed2.0, which is not much use as I'm not about to pay to read the spec. A table of contents is available here, but isn't very informative, though there is an intriguing reference to Ruby.
If this has been developed primarily for Japan, then this probably refers to ruby characters rather than the Ruby language.
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Old 07-22-2010, 01:51 PM   #3
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I'm not an expert on this, but the last time I looked at e-book stores in Japan, it appeared to me that XMDF was by far the dominant format there - much more dominant than any single format is in the English-speaking world.

So to them, it's not such an oddball format. They probably think about like we would think of an American or European company entering Japan with products that use ePub.
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Old 07-22-2010, 04:30 PM   #4
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Of course when we're talking about Japan, 'ebooks' largely means comics, rather than long-form text.

It looks as if the format situation is just as fractured as it is in the West: ebookjapan uses a .ebi format while Papyless uses XMDF, and there seem to be a range of other formats as well like T-Time. Both EBI and XMDF seem to be closed proprietary formats whose main aim is to accommodate DRM.
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Old 07-22-2010, 05:12 PM   #5
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They definitely do have a number of formats; perhaps you're right that it's just as bad as in the West, but XMDF is one of the leading formats.

There are actually a lot of prose books available in addition to manga (the covers depicted on the web sites often have manga-style drawings even for prose books, so it's a bit difficult to tell what's what - I'm basing my observation on recognizing book titles and authors of prose books).

Anyway, my point is just that XMDF seems oddball to us, but in Japan it's well-established. Actually, looking at the article it sounds like these products will be sold in Japan before reaching the US, and for Japan XMDF is a reasonable choice. For the US, it sounds like they just want to much as possible use their existing system as-is, which means bringing XMDF along. I agree that this is a bad idea; Sony tried it by bringing their BBeB format along when they made the US Sony Reader, and we saw what happened there - they eventually switched to ePub (thank goodness!).
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Old 07-22-2010, 07:21 PM   #6
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By fostering a continued reliance on proprietary formats the ebook market in Japan is just hobbling itself, no matter how popular those formats may appear to be right now.
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Old 07-22-2010, 09:08 PM   #7
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Yep, I couldn't agree more!
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Old 07-23-2010, 01:37 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Brainiac 5 View Post
I'm not an expert on this, but the last time I looked at e-book stores in Japan, it appeared to me that XMDF was by far the dominant format there - much more dominant than any single format is in the English-speaking world.

So to them, it's not such an oddball format. They probably think about like we would think of an American or European company entering Japan with products that use ePub.
It is likely that XMDF is designed specifically for, or at least with, the Japanese language in mind. I'm not an expert, but when I watched the video I noticed that many of the documents were designed to be read vertically from top to bottom and then from right to left, different from way English text is read. Based on this, it might have been more practical to develop a document format specifically for the Japanese language rather than trying to adapt an existing document format.

Just my observations, please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
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Old 07-23-2010, 08:25 PM   #9
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A full implementation of CSS 2 should handle right-to-left text just fine, though there might be some difficulty with text laid out in the 'classical' mode of vertical lines read from the right.

I got the impression that the major utility* of these formats lies in making comics easier to read on a small screen (mobile phones are a major part of the market), with tagging to allow individual frames to be presented in succession, or panned as needed.

*apart from DRM of course.
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Old 09-09-2010, 04:06 AM   #10
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Of course when we're talking about Japan, 'ebooks' largely means comics, rather than long-form text.
I would say that the catalogs contain just as many if not more long-form text books.

EPUB is not able to handle the vagaries of Japanese language publishing yet (being worked on now by JEPA - http://www.jepa.or.jp/press_release/reqEPUBJ.html). Not to mention epub was not around when Sharp was working on electronic publishing (MDF format) back in 1985.

I've been reading XMDF (and MDF) books in Japanese on various devices for over 10 years. This is the predominant ebook format in Japan and the likelihood of it going away anytime soon is exceedingly slim. It will take time to introduce Japanese specific changes to the EPUB.

This is also the "supported" format of the electronic book publishers of Japan (EPBAJ) - newly formalized group to coordinate ebook activities amongst the market movers. A recent addition to the JEPA. Most of the major Japanese publishers belong to this group. Furthermore, The dynamics of the Japanese publishing and electronics markets will likely prevent any kind of truly "open" format. It will all be locked down with DRM.

This new revision of XMDF already has wide buy-in amongst most of the Japanese publishing ecosystem including printers, publishers and newspapers.

My prediction is that it won't catch on in the US market, though.
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Old 09-09-2010, 07:08 PM   #11
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This is the predominant ebook format in Japan and the likelihood of it going away anytime soon is exceedingly slim. It will take time to introduce Japanese specific changes to the EPUB.
It's the format used by Papyless, a retailer whose 150,000-title catalog (half of which are comics) is a bit small by western standards*. Which other major retailers use XMDF? All I could find is that Ebookjapan, which is possibly a rather larger concern, uses a completely different format.

While there is certainly a need to utilise formats that accommodate the needs of the Japanese language while the ePub standard gets its act together, these splintered, proprietary systems are only a stopgap measure. I can understand Sharp developing new devices for the domestic Japanese market, but the tone of the press release and the outlets to which it was sent suggest they have ambitions to bring this to the West, which is a patently ridiculous idea.


*2 years ago Papyless only claimed a catalog of 8300 titles, so if this number is true then they've been growing a lot.
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Old 09-09-2010, 08:17 PM   #12
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Spacetown has links to more shops that offer XMDF books.
I think (but not 100% sure) that XMDF is also used by many shops only accessible via cell phones. So you can't see the whole picture just from Web.
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Old 09-09-2010, 08:34 PM   #13
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All of the information about Japan is in Japanese. One must use www.google.co.jp and search in Japanese. That article from Japan Times doesn't begin to cover the history or current status of e-books in Japan. It only talks about one retailer - one the newspaper editor could get a comment from. There are over 10 online retailers - some major ones:

http://www.shosai.ne.jp/
http://books.spacetown.ne.jp/sst/
http://shop.kodansha.jp/bc/books/paburi/
http://books.bitway.ne.jp/
http://www.ebookjapan.jp/ebj/
etc, etc.

Here is a comparison of the major ones with the formats - notice the predominance of XMDF?

http://www.bunshunplaza.com/list_pc/index_pda.html

The assumption that the catalog of Japanese books is small in comparison to Western books is irrelevant. Japan and the Western world are different places. Population size, publishing statistics, size of back catalogs, etc. comparisons are all factors here. More fuel for the discussion:

http://openarchive.cbs.dk/bitstream/...pdf?sequence=1

XMDF is predominant e-book format in Japan and by all indications will remain so - it's been more or less adopted by EPBAJ and will assimilate other formats. It's been around since 1985 while other formats have failed. The ebi and dotbook format's device support is quite poor compared to XMDF - they won't be around for long.

The strength of XMDF is that it can pretty much be read by anything (cellphones, pda's, computers, electronic dictionaries, etc.), even my electronic dictionary can read XMDF books as an extra feature.

It's instructive to look at what other manufacturers are doing. Who else has made an ebook format/device announcement in Japan recently? No one. What is Sony or Amazon doing in Japan for e-books? Nothing.

The XMDF format is an approved IEC standard. Therefore, it cannot be proprietary - internally it's basically XML. And if you believe wikipedia on ebook formats http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compari...e-book_formats :

"Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and Agreement on Government Procurement of WTO mandate the use of ISO, IEC, or ISO/IEC JTC1 standards to each country and region wherever possible. Thus, one could argue that IEC 62448 should be used rather than EPUB of IDPF by every country and region.

The current version of IEC 62448 contains both XMDF of Sharp and BBeB of Sony. The revised version is expected to unify DotBook of Voyager Japan and XMDF of Sharp. The scope of this revision is to cover basic representations for the Japanese language. Technically speaking, this revision will provide a Japanese minimum set, a Japanese extension set, and a stylesheet language.

A forum for standardizing a unified Japanese format for electronic publishing is expected to be established by Japanese companies in 2010, and supported by Japanese ministries. The current member list includes JEITA(Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association), Sharp, Voyager Japan, Electronic Book Publishers Association of Japan, Japan Book Publishers Association, Dai Nippon Printing, and Toppan Printing. All of them are Japanese organizations or companies.
"

Epub will not be the all unifying format in Japan - or even "the" format. Even if it's imported into Japan it will undergo enough changes to make it unique. This is the usual pattern here.
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Old 09-09-2010, 09:13 PM   #14
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Actually, Sony did say they plan to come back to Japan. I think that could be one of the reasons for the return of LRX in the specs of the new models - the BBeB format was developed in Japan and so is better suited for Japanese than EPUB.
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Old 09-09-2010, 09:27 PM   #15
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Actually, Sony did say they plan to come back to Japan. I think that could be one of the reasons for the return of LRX in the specs of the new models - the BBeB format was developed in Japan and so is better suited for Japanese than EPUB.
There has been no official announcement of models nor timing in the Japanese market - just a general announcement. Also, you cannot buy BBeB formatted books any longer, the Sony online bookstore (TimeBook Town) was closed in 2008. Sony was never the market leader in the electronic book space that Sharp is. Basically, the Sony Libre was a total flop in Japan.

In any case, XMDF will assimilate BBeB in it's spec in the final version.
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