Should E-Book Formats be Standardised?

A Picture of a eBook

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One of the major questions that faces the publishing industry today is how it adapts to the changing world which is now so heavily dominated by technology and a population that is losing its powers of concentration. As quick internet searches and fast connections make it ever easier to get access to information, how is the publishing industry aiming to hold fast onto what has been described as a “dying art” – reading? The simple answer, it would seem, is in the form of e-book publishing or electronic book publishing.

Electronic publishing has its benefits. One of the major benefits is the cost savings that it makes as a result of reduced printing costs, distribution costs, warehouse costs and so forth. The problem that has faced publishers, whether big or small, is how to make efficiencies to make sure the greatest number of books published at the lowest possible cost to the publishing house. This heralds a marked shift in the ideologies of publishing houses, once determined to stand firm with printed books, there is now hope for the e-book industry, in part thanks to the efforts of Amazon, Sony and other major e-reader producers.

The second major benefit that it has is for self-publishers. It benefits self-publishers who, in a earlier age of printed press, would be pushed out of the industry because of costs, now have an avenue to enter the world of authorship. We should applaud this and be thankful that we are in a world that is accepting the role that technology can play in helping emerging authors enter into a competitive market. The likes of Lulu, GHP and other web-based publishing tools have created a strong market that offers choice and option to emerging authors and to readers.

The problem, of course, is in digital formatting. When e-book readers first came into the market, there was no standardised format and so producers of the readers could create their own format that was, in essence, a closed format. It wasn’t open to change and it wasn’t transferable, tying a user who has entered early into the e-book market to that proprietary system. One of the prime examples of this is the Amazon Kindle which uses the .azw format. It is a closed format that does not allow the transfer of books from different systems because other systems may use a different format. The issue here is that closed formats like the .azw format is to electronic books what DRM formats are to music, film and software. It is problematic, it is unhelpful and it pushes people away from using their systems.

One of the most standard publishing formats is the .epub format which was created by the International Digital Publishing Forum and its users include the iBooks app, the Sony Reader, the Nook and other less well-known products. The International Digital Publishing Forum should be applauded for their decision to attempt to make a standardised and uniform digital publishing format for publishers and e-reader producers. The question that hangs over our heads is why Amazon is choosing to keep its own format over that of a standard format? The reason is Amazon is interested in a closed format for the reasons I described above – it keeps people who buy the Kindle tied to the product by virtue of the closed system.

The publishing industry, authors and readers should be united in condemning the retention of closed format systems like .azw file formats and the Kindle. It’s not necessarily that we want the Kindle to stop its production but to agree to the .epub format. If Amazon chose to do this, it would benefit all of us. It would give an open system that could pave the way for e-book lending (which in itself has its own problems) and a coherent effort on the part of the publishing industry and authors towards a more environmentally friendly and adaptive way of publishing and reading books.

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About ICaithness

Such is the nature of life that it is difficult to describe oneself, for the simple fear of complete subjectivity. I, for one, would propose that others look to my friends, companions and acquaintances for an analysis of my personality. Alas, I find that I must write something in order to inform my readers of my personality and my linguistic nature. In order to do that, I shall write as objectively as I can. There is little to be said for the sparse writing that I do on occasion, save that it often has a philosophical undertone and best represents the person that I am. Writing is, as was once seen, a beautiful and therapeutic method of examining the world. The words we create are mere 'mirrors to reflect the creations of Nature'. In essence, our hand creates that which reflects our life best. Philosophical though I may be, there is much more to me than pure complex and abstract thought. I am no more a philosophy than I am a man. It is only the presentation of said self that helps to create an identity, a face which represents life in all its glory.

Posted on March 18, 2011, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Ever since the Amanda Hocking story went viral, I’ve been looking at ebook publishing at a number of levels, and I’d have to say that ebook standardization is probably the next frontier of standardization. Much like RSS and Atom set out to standardize XML feeds, I think we would benefit from a standard format.

    And thanks for the link love to the Revenews post. ;)

    • You’re exactly right about standardization and other examples of it. I don’t know why I didn’t include it before. Another earlier example would be the .mp3 format as a standard music file where previously a multitude of formats existed. Not a problem about the link, always keen to link to related posts to give a clear view.

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