While retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple seem set on an ebook strategy involving custom file formats essentially creating “walled gardens” where readers can buy and read books but have a tougher time importing and exporting them, publishers are pushing for quite the opposite.
The Association of American Publishers came out with a statement today (below) in support of the EPUB3 standard as the accepted global distribution format for ebooks and announced an aggressive initiative to make it a reality for consumers.
Dubbed the EPUB3 Implementation Project, its goal is to rapidly advance the adoption of EPUB3 by publishers and retailers over the next six months and have publishers release a large number of titles to the marketplace that use the standard in the first quarter of 2014.
To advance this goal, in the next several months the AAP will convene several meetings of industry professionals to identify and prioritize actionable projects to help further the publishers’ goal.
The announcement says that publishers are working with “retailers, digital content distributors, device makers, reading systems providers, assistive technology experts and standards organizations,” although it is unclear which retailers are willing to work with publishers on this issue.
“We hope to have all the retailers involved,” said Ed McCoyd, executive director of digital, environmental and accessibility affairs at the AAP, adding, “We’re inviting everybody and although I’ve gotten responses from a number of the invitees I don’t have permission to disclose them.”
According to a spokesperson, the AAP is “not releasing participant names at this time.”
Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Sony have all made motions toward EPUB3 support.
Barnes & Noble head of ebook sales Kashif Zafar said in January that, “Nook is very supportive of open industry formats now that EPUB3 is maturing.” He did not come out and say Nook was doing anything concrete to support EPUB3 in the near future. Barnes & Noble has not yet responded to request for comment.
In December of last year, EPUB content formats evangelist at Kobo Jim Dovey said that Kobo would fully support EPUB3 by the third quarter of this year — essentially, now. The company has not yet responded to a request for an update.
And Sony announced in March that its new children’s ebook platform would support EPUB3.
All of the major ebook retailers have reading software that supports some elements of EPUB3, with Apple leading the way. But the standardization of major retailers accepting one common file format may be a long way off.
While EPUB3 offers ebook developers and publishers more options when it comes to ebook interactivity and features, the real push for the industry to adopt the standard is about making it simpler for publishers to create, distribute, secure and update ebooks. Retailers may be hesitant to adopt a standard for fear of losing the advantage of building the so-called “walled gardens” for their customers.
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The Association of American Publishers supports the establishment of EPUB 3 as the standard global distribution format for eBooks and has embarked on a new initiative designed to rapidly advance the format’s implementation in the marketplace.
The EPUB 3 Implementation Project is being developed in a partnership with retailers, digital content distributors, device makers, reading systems providers, assistive technology experts and standards organizations, with the support and engagement of leading advocates for people with disabilities.
The initiative’s goal is to accelerate the across-the-board adoption of the EPUB 3 format in the consumer market by identifying and implementing what stakeholders consider to be the core set of baseline features critical to the format’s acceptance. Among these features are greater interactivity for users, multimedia-enhanced content and expanded accessibility for people who are blind or have other print disabilities.
Publishers have set an ambitious six-month goal to rapidly advance implementation of EPUB 3 through the initiative. Although each individual publisher will make decisions about introducing EPUB 3 titles on its own timeline, many anticipate introducing large numbers of EPUB 3 files into the marketplace beginning First Quarter 2014.
AAP publishers are currently recruiting representation from all stakeholder groups to participate in the initiative’s two central efforts:
— Convening this summer: A working group to identify baseline accessibility features for the EPUB 3 files and for metadata, and to plan the program for the September workshop
— September 10, 2013: A daylong workshop for all participants in New York City to define and prioritize actionable projects
Broad adoption of EPUB 3 will offer countless benefits and opportunities for all those who read, use, create, produce, distribute and publish content:
— Readers and consumers will enjoy greater user experience, including more interactivity and have more consistency in content features and function across devices and retailers
— Through EPUB 3’s innovative assistive features, people who are blind or have other print disabilities will have access to the same titles, at the same time, as all readers
— Retailers and device makers will be able to market and sell more feature-rich content and more devices for such content, reaching an even broader customer base by providing a consistent, optimal user experience
— Educators will have the ability to assign more digital reading materials which are inherently accessible to all students, including people with disabilities
— Publishers will be able to deliver more robust, feature-rich products in the marketplace — in a more streamlined way — to all accounts, for the broadest possible distribution worldwide to readers
While AAP publishers have undertaken a number of activities, independently and in partnership with relevant stakeholders, to advance the EPUB 3 format, this initiative is the most extensive and potentially transformative to date.