Note: Most of this post was drafted on the train ride back from New York on Wednesday night, and I held off posting it because I thought it sounded too snarky. Well, a day later I still think it sounds snarky, but that’s a consequence of how strongly I feel about this stuff. I really do have a lot of respect for the publishers named in the AAP letter’s footnote, many of whom are experimenting and innovating in a lot of very interesting ways. I have no idea who suggested those caveats, or more importantly, who insisted on them, just that they really don’t belong there in the first place. Note that O’Reilly is not a member of the AAP. You’ve been warned, snarkiness ahead…
Timed with yesterday’s IDPF’s Digital Book 2008, the AAP (Association of American Publishers) has put out a letter in support of the EPUB format (that the letter is posted as the scan of a printed letter is certainly amusing, and also quite telling). While this is a positive development, the "yes, but…" part of the letter reveals a subtle lack of understanding on the part of AAP (not the first time — two weeks ago at OnCopyright 2008, AAP VP Allan Adler said that Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all have the same "database" and Google Book Search was how Google was trying to differentiate itself; also not the first time we’ve disagreed with the AAP).
In particular, the AAP highlights three issues that they "encourage the IDPF to work with its member organizations to develop guidelines/plans for addressing":
Quality assurance of any other formats which are created based on the EPUB version
This first issue arises from the fact that most device makers don’t yet natively support EPUB, so even if a publisher produces EPUB and a device maker accepts that EPUB, what actually shows up on the device for a reader will often be something else. I’m not sure how this is the IDPF’s problem. Certainly if a device maker turns perfectly good EPUB into garbage it will reflect poorly on the publisher, but that’s hardly the IDPF’s problem.
Conversion to .LIT and eReader
I’m not clear why it’s the IDPF’s problem to deal with conversion into non-standard formats.
How to handle books that do not have reflowable text and are not appropriate for epub
In a way, that’s like saying that it was the responsibility of the folks behind HTML to deal with the "issue" of a bunch of people’s Word-created brochures looking like garbage when posted online and viewed in Web browsers. There will certainly always be books that require very careful control over layout and formatting. These books do not belong on a mobile phone (unless your customers enjoy scrolling and zooming).
I would argue that most books are not very dependent on strict layout and design, and the IDPF’s energy would better be directed at providing resources and tools for publishers to begin 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 — in particular, adding new value that leverages the potential of digital content.