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Old 06-20-2006, 02:02 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Industry adopts new e-book standards

The e-book industry has come to agreement on e-book standard standards. Yes! Agreement by the e-book industry on standards. It's not completely finalized yet, but we appear to be on the verge of a monumental achievement that will propel the industry forward. "The combined standards efforts will result in a non-proprietary way for publishers to deliver digital books through the distribution chain to consumers, similar to the MP3 format for digital music. No patent encumbrances are expected of either new specification."

This is not just another theoretical wishlist. We are talking about a set of specifications that will actually be implemented. What an exciting new development for the industry, and for e-book lovers everywhere. Industry standards are an elusive thing, and it was looking like e-books would forever remain a tower of Babel, without any common formats. But major players in the e-book industry, including names like Adobe, MobiPocket, Motricity, iRex and eBook Technologies have all come together and it is quite possible that one of the largest obstacles for e-book adoption has been conquered as a result.

So, why is this different than any other other standard? Quite simply, due to two reasons: First of all, there is widespread support by the industry from content creation to final content resellers. Secondly, supporters are acting in line with their positions. Specifically, they are really going to implement the standards in places like the iRex Iliad e-ink book reader.

Here are some examples, from the press release, of how the industry has backed the IDPF work (emphasis mine):

"Mobipocket has been a great supporter of open standards in the eBook world since the OEBPS creation. We are excited about this new initiative, which is the right way to go to make this market mainstream. We plan to fully support this new standard in our product line," said Thierry Brethes, CEO & co-founder of Mobipocket.com, an Amazon.com company.

OSoft intends to support the new OEBPS standards with the upcoming release of dotReader,” said Mark Carey, CEO of OSoft.com, an open source document company. “The enhancements to the standards will improve accessibility and be more publisher and consumer friendly. Of particular interest to publishers is the standardization of a master e-book format which will greatly improve document workflow and reduce e-book publishing costs.”

“Motricity's vision is to increase the adoption and consumption of premium mobile data such as ebooks," said Elizabeth Mackey (Vice President and General Manager of eReader/Motricity). "We fully support open standards and access as the cornerstones of IDPF’s efforts as we believe it's exemplary of the type of collaborative process that will build mainstream awareness and further the independence and productivity of the mobile lifestyle.”

iRex Technologies’ VP Marketing and Business Development Willem Endhoven stated, “iRex Technologies will support the development of these standards as it will accelerate the momentum in electronic reading. We believe that consumers will benefit from a more harmonized, open system approach and simplicity of use. We expect to support the IDPF standards for use in the iLiad e-reader in the future."

If you read carefully, you see that there is great support, but not quite final commitment yet. It's still early. But we're seeing great progress, and it brings great expectations.

Adobe's Bill McCoy reminds us that we are seeing rapid progress, but that there is a lot of work to be done. The highlight of the work so far is the improved cooperation among industry members and standards organizations. He "encourages cooperation across standards groups and industry consortia" and warns of the danger of splinter specifications. (Note that the IDPF is also working with other standards organizations such as OASIS and DAISY.)

The first <pdf warning> specification is for a container format, called the OEBPS Container Format (OCF). It is expected to be finalized in the next several weeks. This container format is based on zip archive technology, and supports publishers while working on document production, distribution to the sales channels, and for delivery of the final result to the end user. In each case, one document is sufficient for all the content, and potentially even multiple versions of a document. OCF is "the recommended single-file container technology for OEBPS publications." It is also "an extension of the packaging format defined by the OpenDocument OASIS Standard (ISO/IEC 26300)."

The second specification is the next generation of OEBPS (Open eBook Publication Structure). It is an XML based e-book format from the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum). It is being developed to "focus on detailed control of content rendering, navigation and accessibility, and alignment with other standards efforts."

From IDPF press release.
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Old 06-20-2006, 03:06 PM   #2
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Thanks for pointing this out, Bob!
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Old 06-20-2006, 03:36 PM   #3
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Good!
I'm sure Sony will find the way to be against !
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Old 06-20-2006, 04:06 PM   #4
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Am I the only one who thought 'idiot proof' when I saw idpf?
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Old 06-20-2006, 04:45 PM   #5
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There's no such thing, all you can hope for is "idiot resistant" -- somebody's always building better idiots.
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Old 06-20-2006, 04:54 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
The second specification is the next generation of OEBPS (Open eBook Publication Structure). It is an XML based e-book format from the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum). It is being developed to "focus on detailed control of content rendering, navigation and accessibility, and alignment with other standards efforts."
Just like OEBPS.

I just don't see the big deal here, particularly for consumers. Will it help with interop issues? Will it help with vendors using DRM as a customer lock-in technique? Will the ordinary fiction book without illustrations really be any different in the new "standard"?
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Old 06-20-2006, 05:50 PM   #7
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rmeister0, the idea is that if all e-books are published in an industry standard format then they will be compatable with all readers, on all platforms that take that standard.

Therefore you would not be locked in to a given reader or platform, your e-book would be tranferrable to others.

As for DRM, they look to be allowing for it (which will encourage the hand-wringers in the publishing industry to participate), but since the DRM will also be set up to work with the standard, it too will be transferrable.

And of course buy in from more publishers means more titles.

The excerpts Bob posted, and the source article go into greater detail, and the standard itself is linked in the article if you want really detailed info....
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Old 06-20-2006, 06:46 PM   #8
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nice in principle.

What we need now is a well-programmed reader software and a book-maker software. An of course cheap eink devices, then I'll start celebrating...^^

Oh wait...we also need to integrate that reader software into the cheap eink readers we just created...
Then the digital book revolution can finally get going.
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Old 06-20-2006, 07:04 PM   #9
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Baby steps, Commander, baby steps. This is a huge deal -- it means that a number of the big players are getting together and pushing it a single direction. That's pretty huge.
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Old 06-20-2006, 08:02 PM   #10
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Do not forget this...
When multiple companies move together in the same direction, it means they smell blood...i mean money.
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Old 06-21-2006, 06:14 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell
But major players in the e-book industry, including names like Adobe, MobiPocket, Motricity, iRex and eBook Technologies have all come together and it is quite possible that one of the largest obstacles for e-book adoption has been conquered as a result.
It's a bit misleading to mention Adobe: as far as I can see, there is nothing in either the publication format or the container format that involved Adobe products or formats. At least not yet, anyway, though there seem to be some future plans for embeddable typefaces.

It's clearly a publishers' format. It's not possible to say if it will be a readers' format. Reader system conformance requirements is also a future development.

Quote:
Secondly, supporters are acting in line with their positions. Specifically, they are really going to implement the standards in places like the iRex Iliad e-ink book reader.
It won't be very expensive to implement a reader. Unless I've missed something important, any reasonably modern web browser will do the job. (If decryption and DRM is wanted, extra functionality is required.)

Unicode is the character set, which is good, but readers seem free to refuse to display any Unicode character as well, which is less useful. I can't at present see that I can use anything in the documents to ensure that the book I create here will be readable on a reader over there -- which seems counter-intuitive. (Section 1.3.6 if you want to chew on it for yourselves.)

Until there is such a guarantee, this announcement is only an appetizer.

I'm not sure if or how the OpenReader Consortium are related -- but they seem to be doing something very similar, though they don't have as many big names on their membership list. The OpeanReader feature set at least mentions hyphenation and widow/orphan issues. (Jon Noring is in both groups, I see.)
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Old 06-21-2006, 06:32 AM   #12
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Speaking of OpenReader, be sure to check out the following dissenting view from the excellent site, TeleRead... http://www.teleread.org/blog/?p=5072
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Old 06-21-2006, 07:38 AM   #13
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"Tower of eBabel issue persists, with or without the IDPF announcement."

Hi, Bob. Thanks for that classy pointer to the TeleRead item. Between the blog and a library project and a million of other things, I'm stretched thin, but I still have on tap an explanation for MobileRead folks of why the OpenReader standard is necessary. In effect it's a turbocharged version of the OEBPS spec--the kind of thing that the IDPF would have produced by now if its leaders hadn't been so resistant to a consumer-level format. The creation of the OpenReader Consortium, led by Jon Noring, an experienced IDPF standards setter, forced the IDPF to do what it had been avoiding. Thanks. David (who's among the ringleaders with OpenReader)

Last edited by davidrothman; 06-21-2006 at 07:44 AM. Reason: Just noticed your classy follow-up item
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Old 06-22-2006, 11:21 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by NatCh
rmeister0, the idea is that if all e-books are published in an industry standard format then they will be compatable with all readers, on all platforms that take that standard.
I'll believe it when I see it, which pretty much means never.

The whole point of DRM is to create customer lock-in, and I don't believe for a minute that any of these players, as well intentioned as they sound today, won't succumb to the temptation to try to create a vertical lock on the software distribution mechanism, the software reader, and/or the hardware device. Sony will not be the only provider trying to do this, and that is assuming their product ever actually gets out the door.

Making pronouncements at a trade conference is easy. Actually doing what they say in the marketplace is a lot harder, and history so far is not promising.
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Old 06-22-2006, 12:35 PM   #15
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Hi,

Let us see the details and implementation and then we should celebrate. When Adobe and ebooks come in a phrase, I do not believe until proven wrong that something positive will come out of it.
I see more and more ebooks published with many major publishers selling them directly and through other retailers, so I am starting to think that finally publishers are waking up to the need for ebooks. Now if they would wake up to the need for an open format and tell Adobe, Sony and the like to stuff it...

Liviu
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