The point of Digital Editions

Bob Russel writes:

I’d like to get a better feel for how you see Digital Editions from within the company. Not the polished formal or comprehensive and official description, but in your minds what’s the main point of it, what’s the intent, and where would you like to see it progress in the future? What sort of (realistic) hopes do you have for it’s adoption, and how can that be encouraged along?

This is a bit loaded question to ask a tech guy like me, of course. Success depends on much larger set of things than just technology alone and I’d rather concentrate on the technology.

To me the point of Digital Editions is quite clear. There are these things called books and they are not going away, even if they have to morph to fit into the digital world. Reading books today on paper is still much nicer than on an electronic device, but it does not have to be that way. We need these things to happen:

  • we have to agree on a eBook format which is open, easy to author, adapts to the reading environment form factor, but still rich enough to look good;
  • we need software which renders eBooks, so that they are pleasant to read and easy to manage; it also needs to provide new functionality that paper cannot do well (e.g., links, search and annotations – or embedded interactive content);
  • we need handheld devices which are small, easy to read from and have long battery life;
  • we need good authoring tools so that it is easy to create eBooks
  • we need publishers to treat eBooks as first-class citizens.

I think that we are getting there. PDF would have been a perfect eBook format if it could be reflowed to a small screen without quality loss, but at least it is easy to publish an existing content in it. So we had to try again. ePub, I think, as it is now, is quite good (and I think it will evolve – we need to add MathML and perhaps some extra layout and typographical features). We are, as you know, working on the software ;-). We see devices coming (e.g. Sony Reader). The hardest part is to convince publishers that eBooks are the future, but I think we can do it, maybe slowly and case-by-case, but things are moving there as well.