Adobe and Barnes and Noble announced today a partnership to advance the open eBook platform standard. This was part of a broader announcement by B&N featuring their new nook device – which is very sweet – definitely the highest techno-lust quotient of any eReader device to date.
The adoption of EPUB, PDF & ACS4 by B&N is an extremely significant milestone. First, it puts to rest concerns that B&N would adopt EPUB as a base format but frustrate consumer expectations of interoperability and confuse the marketplace with a non-interoperable content protection solution based on their Fictionwise eReader acquisition. Instead, B&N is adopting the cross-platform Adobe solution that is already used by Sony, OverDrive, and nearly a hundred others. And, by adding support for password-based content protection for EPUB, Adobe is addressing the need to deliver a more lenient “social DRM” option as part of our solution. And from the perspective of the overall ecosystem, today’s announcement is huge: we have, within the last two months, seen two “legacy” proprietary eBook formats – BBeB and eReader – superseded by the open standard EPUB solution with Adobe’s cross-platform content protection. In essence, there is now a clear “DVD of eBooks” format standard, and everyone significant has adopted it (with now only one remaining exception).
This partnership is a double win-win: a win for both companies involved, as well as for the rest of the ecosystem and consumers. It’s clearly a good move for B&N and Adobe, it’s going to help accelerate consumer adoption of eBooks by cementing the standard eBook platform – EPUB and PDF with the option of ACS4 DRM – and giving consumers content portability across their choice of devices.
While Adobe and Barnes & Noble work at very different levels of the value chain, I feel we really have a shared vision, one that William Lynch, President of BN.com, emphasized at the nook launch: “Any Book (Magazine, or Newspaper), Any Time, Anywhere (On Any Device)”. Today, we all took a big step towards realizing this vision.
A few inquiries have come in about a press release earlier this week by the Reading Rights Coalition noting that the Los Angeles Public Library has suspended purchasing eBooks compatible with Adobe Digital Editions, because there is no accessibility support in our solution. This post is intended to clarify the situation and provide an update on our roadmap.
The basic concern of the Reading Rights Coalition is legitimate. Adobe Digital Editions is a PC application that replaced the eBook support that was present in older versions of Adobe Reader. While there are many new capabilities in Adobe Digital Editions, most importantly support for epub in addition to PDF, and overall its more consumer-focused user interface, Adobe Reader did support screen readers and a “read out loud” feature, neither of which is presently in Adobe Digital Editions. This is a regrettable situation. It stems from the fact that, for a number of reasons, we made the decision to build Adobe Digital Editions in a technology called Adobe Flex, targeting the Adobe Flash desktop runtime that became Adobe AIR. While the browser-based version of Flash Player has for quite some time included accessibility support, the desktop configuration has not, and neither the AIR team nor our Digital Editions team was able to incorporate accessibility support in our respective version 1 implementations.
We agree completely that eBook accessibility is critical. Adobe is helping to create the cross-platform standard for interoperable eBooks. Clearly, accessibility support is a fundamental requirement. One of the key motivations for supporting epub was that it was a more structure-based and thus more inherently accessible file format makes. So, the current situation is simply unacceptable.
So what are we doing about it?
First, the next major release of Adobe Digital Editions, expected within the coming year, is going to support accessiblity features. Earlier this week, Adobe previewed AIR 2, and we disclosed that screen reader support was going to be included. This will be a key enabler for us.
Additionally, Adobe has begun working with several vendors of accessibility-oriented software and devices to get them access to Adobe eBook rendering and DRM technology via our Adobe Reader Mobile SDK, so their solutions can consume Adobe eBooks. Our Reader Mobile SDK is not a revenue generator for Adobe; our standard terms are focused on proliferation (and with 17 announced licensees so far this year we are doing pretty well on that front). This is similar to the Open Screen Project for Flash licensing. But since many accessibility vendors are either nonproffits or have limited financial resources, we have gone even further in extending extraordinarily favorable terms to get them access to our portable document technology. I expect we will be able to make some specific announcements around this very shortly, but the bottom line is that there will soon be multiple means for visually-impaired end users to consume Adobe eBooks.
One still controversial issue is that some publishers are concerned lest non-visually-impaired consumers get access to “read out loud” functionality that would potentially undercut sales of audio books. Adobe plans in this regard are to support in our DRM system a permission setting that will enable publishers to disable “read out loud” functionality in software systems that are NOT focused on the visually impaired. But, we plan to default this permission setting to “enable” and recommend strongly that publishers not set it to “disable”. As well we plan to exempt accessibility-oriented software from being limited by this setting. We feel this approach will strike an appropriate balance between giving publishers the rights to determine how to distribute their copyrighted content, and ensuring that accessibility is provided.
Again, the current situation is unfortunate. As someone who has helped foster the adoption of epub, including the decision to support DAISY as a type of basic content within epub, it is a black eye for me personally that Adobe’s solution does not presently provide accessibility support. I am grateful that the Los Angeles Public Library has only “suspended” purchasing Adobe eBooks, and I look forward to working with our partners to, in short order, remedy the situation.
NY Times today launched the Times Reader 2.0, built on Adobe AIR, with significant involvement from folks here at Adobe. A “killer app”? Well, newspapers face fundamental business model challenges that arguably transcend the reading experience, so I’m not sure I’d go that far. But as a beta tester I found I definitely preferred it to just viewing articles on the web, and it shows the power of Flash for enabling rich media, interactivity, and a more engaging overall experience.
A side note: the Times Reader 2.0 utilizes new text capabilities in Flash Player 10 (and the latest AIR release) as well as an Adobe enabling component, somewhat uncreatively named the Text Layout Framework (TLF). While the Times Reader 2.0 runs as a standalone app via AIR, at the recent Tools of Change I showed for the first time a sneak peak of a browser-based renderer for native EPUB using FP10 & TLF. Stay tuned for more on this.
Adobe today announced the new Reader Mobile SDK, which supports PDF, EPUB and Adobe Content Server DRM. We also announced five new licensees planning to ship enabled solutions this year, including Lexcycle (Stanza), Bookeen (Cybook), iRex Technologies (Iliad), Polymer Vision (Readius) and Spring Design. This is a really big step forward in our strategy for enabling digital publishing with an open platfrom that’s fully interoperable across PCs and devices. Much more to come, but meantime additional information (including an inquiry form for prospective licensees) on the new Adobe Developer Connection Reader Mobile site.
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?”.
Amazon Kindle has certainly accelerated awareness and interest in eBooks. My spouse, son, and I have been sharing (i.e. fighting over) a Kindle for the last couple of weeks, and the consensus opinion is that Amazon definitely got some things very right with its solution. Seamless, untethered acquisition of content really does transform the experience. The widely noted complaints around 1980s-esque appearance and usability issues (can’t hold without accidentally pressing buttons) certainly are factors – the Sony Reader 505 is a much more refined industrial design. But the real barrier with Kindle is much more fundamental: it’s an entirely closed system.
Buying eBooks in a proprietary vendor-specific format that can only be used on that vendor’s device is a mug’s game. Kindle is far more closed even than iPod, which started out and have remained primarily players for MP3s, easily made from any audio CD. While Kindle supports a couple of non-DRM publication formats (unfortunately not yet PDF or EPUB), there’s almost no supply of non-DRM commercial content, a situation unlikely to change any time soon. Amazon touts 90,000 titles on the Kindle Store but searching for any topic will quickly reveal that it’s still quite a thin selection – a substantial number of the titles seem to be relatively obscure treatises and for-sale DRMed versions of public domain works. Leaving aside quality issues with the titles, Kindle Store selection of consumer-relevant content feels somewhat less comprehensive than an average major-airport bookstore. Underwhelming, yes – but the real zinger is that you’re completely out of luck if Amazon’s sole-source store doesn’t have what you want to read.
For a healthy eBook ecosystem, readers need to be able to choose where they want to get their content, and where they want to read it. That’s what Adobe is working to enable. Admittedly we still have a lot of work to do, but there’s going to be some major steps forward in the very near future. Sony and Adobe announced back in June that Sony Reader products would gain support for the EPUB open eBook standard, reflow capabiliies for PDF, and Adobe’s DRM, supported by hundreds of online bookstores and libraries. Adobe has also noted that we’ll be enhancing the DRM support in Adobe Digital Editions to enable content transfer across multiple PCs and devices. Yesterday Adobe open sourced a tool to validate EPUB titles for conformance to the IDPF standard.
Heading off to a sunny beach, Kindle in hand, I thank Amazon for taking eBooks a major step forward in 2007, and I applaud Jeff Bezos and the Lab126 team for their creativity and persistence. Amazon clearly has an incentive to maximize its retail opportunities. As the open eBook ecosystem grows, dedicated reading devices, convergence devices, and PCs improve as platforms for reading, and it becomes clear that “cornering the market” with a sole-source/sole-device solution is not going to fly, I hope that Amazon (already an IDPF member) will end up becoming a major participant in, and contributor to, the broader digital publishing ecosystem.
Today Hachette Book Group announced that it will no longer be delivering eBook content to distribution channels in proprietary file formats, becoming the first major publisher to announce adoption of the IDPF epub standard. This move, coming hard on the heels of formal approval of the core standard just weeks ago, underlines the costs and hassles publishers have faced dealing with a plethora of incompatible proprietary eBook file formats, and many other publishers are expected to follow suit. Additional coverage from The Book Standard and Publishers Weekly.
The increasing mainstream adoption of digital publishing and eBooks – noted in today’s Telegraph – stands to be significantly accelerated by convergence to open interoperable standards for eBooks. Hachette’s move also signals the breadth of support for open standards: this is not one or a few companies getting together to dictate a solution. The IDPF’s nearly 100 members include publishers, technology vendors, trade and textbook publishers, educational institutions, libraries and other governmental bodies, and this group unanimously approved the new epub standards earlier this month. The point is not to advantage any single vendor or publisher, but that the industry as a whole can only grow if we create an open, healthy ecosystem that inspires confidence on the part of publisher and consumers. There’s more work to do – DRM is still a tough nut – but with epub providing the open standard complement to PDF for reflow-centric text-based content, we are well on our way.
Interesting Slate article Apple vs. Everyone by Ivan Askwith, focusing on the recent new alternatives to Apple’s online music distribution hegemony and potential future scenarios for both music and video .
The article glosses over the key point that “iTunes” is not synonymous with “iTunes Store“. Even the new directly-competitive Amazon Music Store prominently touts right on its top banner “All songs compatible with iTunes…”. It’s interesting that Apple’s dominance of PC music library software is somewhat independent of iTunes Store and even iPod – and is predicated on Apple’s support of the open standard MP3 format. With only 22 iTunes Store songs per iPod there would be an awful lot of empty iPods and iTunes libraries if it weren’t for unprotected MP3s from CDs and other sources.
Could one possible outcome be for Apple to retain its PC music player dominance by supporting multiple stores, and maybe even non-Apple devices, more explicitly in iTunes? Or will the linkage between iTunes and iTunes Store grow ever tighter, with users seeking freedom of choice in content sources and downstream devices forced to seek elsewhere for well-integrated PC music library solutions? And how will this shake out for other content types? In music Apple certainly has the pole position – but for video downloads it’s stil early days and other solutions – including our forthcoming Adobe Media Player – are certainly still in the hunt.
For eBooks and other text-based content I think it’s even less likely that we’ll see a single monolithic end-to-end solution with majority market share. There are just too many channels via which books, magazines, and other publications get out to readers. The Slate article points out that Universal controls “one out of every three new albums sold in the United States” – print publishing has consolidated quite a bit but no one has that kind of control. That’s why Adobe’s supporting open eBook standards, including PDF and IDPF epub, making sure our Digital Editions software supports acquisition from the user’s choice of Web-based retailers and libraries, and working to enable multiple devices to consume this content.
I’m very pleased to announce that Nick Bogaty, currently Executive Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), will join Adobe next month to lead our digital publishing business development. Nick has demonstrated strong vision and the ability to “herd cats” in successfully guiding the IDPF, a trade group that brings together publishers, vendors, and other publishing industry stakeholders to advance technology standards and promote market development. While Nick understandably decided to seek new challenges after an almost six year stint at the helm of IDPF, his passion for promoting the broader adoption of digital publishing was clearly unabated, so I’m delighted that he’s chosen to come on board and play a key role in advancing Adobe’s contributions. Adobe remains a strong supporter of IDPF, consistent with our overall philosophy of promoting open standards and interoperability, and we are committed to helping to ensure a successful IDPF leadership transition.
Several of our key developers, including our lead architect Peter Sorotokin, recently started a new Adobe Digital Editions blog . One of the first posts delves into best practices for authoring EPUB XML from InDesign CS3. The team plans to cover a wide variety of topics relating to the technical underpinnings of Digital Editions and various authoring workflows. Future posts I’m looking forward to include automatic conversion of DocBook XML to EPUB, and delving into the use of XSL-FO master page templates as an EPUB extension that facilitates dynamic, adaptive layout. If you have topics you’d like to see covered, suggest it in a comment on Peter’s intro post.
There’s a broader issue with use of our new InDesign feature that I’d like to touch on here: the tradeoffs between authoring PDF and EPUB. Many content authors have long been firmly rooted in a “WYSIWYG” mindset, and some have as a result expected EPUB to be some kind of XML version of PDF, that preserves all the composition of InDesign. That’s not the case: if you want final-form fidelity, you should stick with PDF – that’s what it was designed for, and it does its job very well. EPUB is designed to represent a more adaptive portable document – one that encapsulates a sequence of linear text flows (“Stories” in InDesign/InCopy lingo). Content-level styling can be applied (via CSS), final-form content can be embedded within a text flow (as SVG or Flash SWF), and hints as to page-level formatting can be applied (via our XSL-FO-based extensions to EPUB), but at the end of the day it’s up to an EPUB processor to determine the proper page layout based on a user’s screen size, resolution, font size preferences, etc. And different EPUB renderers are free to make different line layout decisions.
One implication of this is that “your mileage may vary” in creating EPUB from InDesign CS3. If you have a nice linear book, with InDesign stories flowed into well-designed page templates things should go well – especially if you follow the tips in Peter & Piotr’s post. If you created page layouts manually in a “pasteboard” manner, then things may get a bit stickier. Again, you may choose in this case to just stick with high-fidelity PDF. Our DIgital Editions software natively supports both PDF and EPUB as first-class citizens. But if you want the benefits of adaptive layout, mobile device optimization, and increased accessiblity of using EPUB, you may wish to reconsider your authoring workflow, to more consistently utilize InDesign Story flows to pave the way for structured EPUB XML export. This is something else I hope the team will blog about in more detail down the road.