AAP EPUB Endorsement On Target

It’s great news that the Association of American Publisher (AA) last week published an open letter endorsing IDPF EPUB as a standard eBook distribution format. On the O’Reilly TOC blog Andrew Savikis dinged AAP Director Ed McCoyd’s letter for missing the boat in its calls to action from the AAP to the IDPF. From my perspective, it’s Andrew that missed the boat: the AAP points he criticized were on target and fully appropriate given the real-world situation.
Andrew says he’s “not clear why it’s the IDPF’s problem to deal with conversion into non-standard formats” and quality assurance of the results. But this is the AAP, comprised solely of publishers, speaking to the IDPF, a broader group that in particular includes the eBook format and device vendors. It seems perfectly appropriate for AAP to make sure it’s on record with vendors that the job isn’t done just in having a neutral open standard for intermediate distribution of reflow-centric content. Ideally all the proprietary distribution formats will go away over time, but meantime the conversions and resulting quality issues are very real.
Andrew also pooh-poohed the letter’s request that the IDPF consider how to handle books that benefit from a particular final-form presentation. At one level I agree with Andrew on this – there is a perfectly good open standard for handling final-form content: PDF, an AIIM/ISO standard (PDF/A subset and soon the full magilla) – my own quibble with Ed’s letter was the poor wording choice that made it sound like AAP was lumping PDF in with proprietary eBook formats. Anyway, the IDPF has wisely steered away from reinventing the wheel in this area. However, there is demand for distribution-ready eBooks that can deliver both a high-quality final form printable representation as well as a dynamic reflow-centric structure-oreinted representation.
There are a few ways to skin this cat: PDF and EPUB versions could be combined into a single distributable file, and it’s possible to extend EPUB as Adobe has done in Digital Editions and InDesign CS3 to support master page templates and dynamically switching between them based on variables such as screen size and user font size preference. IDPF could have a role to play in standardizing the PDF/EPUB combination approach, and Adobe has committed to submitting our XSL-FO based template extension for consideration for future standardization under the EPUB umbrella. Where PDF is full “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get”), EPUB w/ page templates could be considered “WYSIOO” (What You See Is One Option). Base EPUB simply doesn’t deliver this capability – it was deemed out of scope for the last round of working group efforts.
But there’s certainly a broad range of use cases for richer presentational delivery combined with the ability to adapt content to different sized screens. AAP includes publishing segments with different levels of requirements around page fidelity and printability, so it seems perfectly reasonable for the AAP to put IDPF on notice that while it’s great to have an industry standard reflow-centric format, our work is not yet fully complete so long as choosing that format (w/out extensions) means giving up any ability to describe preferred page-level layout information. Certainly Adobe agrees – thats’ why we chose to implement the XPTG template extension in our software.
Stepping back, I totally agree with Andrew that “making the transition from designing books to be consumed primarily in print with ebooks as an afterthought, toward designing books intended to remain digital throughout their lifecycle ” should be a major focus. I just don’t see the AAP’s requests as being out of synch wiith that over-arching goal. It’s been over six months since EPUB 1.0 was approved, so from where I sit, it’s not too overly demanding for the AAP to start asking the IDPF “what have you done for me lately?”.