Sony BBeB and eBook formats

Josh Carter commented to ask “how do you see Sony’s BBeB format splintering the market? If their store is halfway successful … the bickering over open formats may be largely irrelevant to the average consumer.” Good question!
My viewpoint is that BBeB is simply one of the best of a number of what I would call “compiled from XML” derivative formats. The vast majority of eBook content that is not PDF starts life as OEBPS XHTML-based XML. But no eBook reading systems directly consume this XML. ETI uses a minimal ZIP-based container file wrapper. Microsoft Reader’s .LIT format encodes the OEB content into a DRM-protected container file. Mobipocket and Sony BBeB can be created via a “compile to bytecode” process on the OEB XML source. BBeB has some additional capabilities that overlap into the sphere of final-form paginated PDF, and the Japanese Librie supported a print driver creation utility as well as (naturally) strong support for the Japanese writing system. But given the nature of the 6-inch Sony Reader screen, and the presence of PDF on the device, I expect the BBeB-based eBooks for sale in the U.S. to be reflowable, and the results of the OEB translation pipeline.
Assume the industry successfully establishes an XHTML-based reflowable document format based on the evolution of OEB, with an associated single-file container package with pluggable DRM, then I see no strong raison d’etre for Mobi, BBeB, or any of the other OEB-derivative eBook formats to hang around forever. That doesn’t mean BBeB will go away overnight and indeed Sony has discussed taking steps to make it more open and accessible, but in the long run I believe the momentum behind interoperable XML-based formats is unstoppable.

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