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Another Perspective on the AAP/EPUB Endorsement

Adobe’s Bill McCoy has responded to my post on the AAP’s endorsement of the EPUB format over on his blog:

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.

Bill’s response is reasoned and thorough, and raises understandable objections to my original post. And the root of my objection to the AAP’s approach is summed up nicely in how Bill concludes his post:

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?".

My concern is that by spending energy and resources working to satisfy publishers concerned primarily with replicating a print experience (something I contend is unnecessary for the vast majority of books published today), the opportunity cost is measured in lost energy and effort that should be directed toward building knowledge and capabilities for true digital publishing.

When I read between the lines of the AAP’s letter, it’s something like: "EPUB still isn’t as good as PDF as far as we’re concerned, and we want you to keep working to make it more faithful to our printed pages." But to me, EPUB is so extraordinary because it brings books that much closer to the richness of the Web. What are the standards and best practices for incorporating live web content into ebooks? Where’s the framework for incorporating Google’s new Friend Connect or OpenID into ebooks (so I know which of my friends is also reading the book)? What about a standard or mechanism for aggregating annotations and comments from ebook readers? To me, these are the kinds of questions publishers should be asking and the IDPF should at least help in answering.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill, and for the IDPF. I just think the AAP is misguided in asking them to make ebooks work more like print books, rather than how to make ebooks work more like the web.

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