Dear Author: eBook Format Wars Are Over

Dear Author‘s Jane has posted a timely article It’s Time to End the Format Wars in the eBook Industry I completely agree that:

It doesn’t make sense to me to have a retailer like Amazon dictate to a publisher the market for their product. Having an agreed upon standard that is open to other manufacturers creates competition and can serve to open the market for digital … An end to the format wars is a win for publishers. It’s a win for consumers

However, it would appear that Jane is not fully aware of of recent progress toward this goal.
Of course, PDF is already the clear winner as the open standard for final-form paginated content. The “eBook Format Wars’ of which Jane speaks were never about alternatives to PDF for print-fidelity content, they were about formats to represent reflow-centric content. It would be nice if we could have had one file format for all eBook purposes, and indeed Adobe was insistent for quite some time that PDF was that format. Yet, while PDF became the most popular eBook format, it has always fallen down when it came to mobile device support. In a world where content will be consumed on a wide variety of screen sizes, binding to a particular paginated representation is unhelpful. Arguably the PDF “capabilities gap” and Adobe’s stubborness helped foster the eBook format wars, as a plethora of reflow-centric formats emerged.
Those who took the other extreme – arguing that PDF is entirely unnecessary for eBooks – missed the point that some content is heavily designed around a particular paginated representation, and may not make sense to recast in a “liquid” representation. Many textbooks and children’s books may just not make sense to target for reading on a 3 inch mobile screen. Digital publishing is not just about linear texts such as novels.And printing is not going away any time soon. The preferred representation for many books, magazines, and newspapers will remain high-fidelity PDF .It’s not that PDF is bad, it’s just not sufficient. And, for many eBook use cases such as novels, it’s not necessarily the best solution as a distribution format.
But now we finally have a distribution-ready standard for reflow-centric conten to complement PDF: IDPF EPUB . EPUB evolved from the existing OEBPS interchange standard, and was approved as a final standard last Fall by a unanimous vote of the IDPF membership, and is rapidly gaining adoption. EPUB adds single-file packaging – the lack of which was the Achille’s Heel of OEPBS – as well as support for structured table of contents, SVG vector graphics, DAISY DTBook support, and embedded fonts. So EPUB supports design-rich distribution-ready publications, wtihin a reflowable structure-centric content model.
I’m hearing more and more from eBook conversion vendors who are being asked by publishers to create EPUB, as well as from publishers who want to directly create EPUB. And Adobe’s going all-in on supporting both PDF and EPUB for digital publishing. Adobe supports EPUB export from InDesign CS3, which we have been actively enhancing. We are also working with the open source community to develop EPUB validation tools and scripts to convert other XML formats such as DocBook to EPUB. Adobe Digital Editions natively supports both PDF and EPUB, and we’ve had over 1 million downloads of Digital Ediitons 1.0 since its launch last June (a beta of Digital Editions 1.5, which supports content portability with our DRM solution, is now out on Adobe Labs).
We aren’t quite over the hump yet – we still need to establish a significant EPUB inventory gaining retailer and library support, deliver on device support, etc.. And there are still a few additional issues to be attacked – such as DRM interoperability. Meantime, publishers need to remain vigilant and reject any “yet another eBook format” attempts (whether from Redmond, Cupertino, or elsewhere). But the big picture is that the industry is finally on track to end the eBook format wars of the last decade, and start reaping the publisher and consumer peace dividends. Tellingly, one major eBook retailer, despite promoting their own proprietary format, has quietly begun accepting EPUB submissions from publishers. To me, that says it’s all over but the shouting.

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