Open Publishing Distribution System — an Open-Standards Catalog Format

It’s no secret we’re big fans of the iPhone/iPod reading app Stanza. While the Kindle App has overtaken Stanza for the top-spot among free book apps in iTunes, Stanza offers a much better reading experience than the Kindle App (for example, by supporting standard formatting like tables and whitespace-preservation) (Update: You can use the latest version of mobigen.exe to get better whitespace-preservation (from <pre> and friends) on the Kindle.) And I’m not the only one who feels that way: “Stanza is hands-down the best e-book reader for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and its free. Go. Get it now.” (

But more than the quality of the software, the major reason I’m so bullish on Stanza is their willingness to experiment. When our own Keith Fahlgren suggested they use the standard Atom format for their catalog system, they responded:

We wound up taking your advice and implemented support for Atom for Stanza’s catalog format. Thanks for the suggestion! Using the Atom standard is much better than using our own custom format (although we may need to eventually extend the custom format with our own tags).

And when we proposed using Stanza to create a standalone book app (for iPhone: The Missing Manual), they were eager to dive in head first, and we both learned a lot in the process.

That Atom-based Online Catalog feature turned out to be an interesting prototype for a distributed digital discovery and ecommerce system, and it’s awesome to see them willing to embrace the potential for such a system well beyond the boundaries their own product, and to join with Peter Brantley and the Internet Archive in laying the groundwork for what’s being called the Open Publication Distribution System:

Users of compatible Reading Systems, in addition to being able to access content they have previously acquired or acquire via other means, are also able to access a catalog (list of online sources of content). Typically, the catalog offers a number of free titles, which may be hosted by the Reading System vendor and/or other sites, as well as the opportunity to purchase or borrow paid content from stores and libraries. Additional stores and libraries may be added by the user to their personal catalog. The mechanism through which compatible Reading Systems access the distributed catalog has three components: eBook content, XML catalog metadata, and an HTTP transport for the catalog. The remainder of this document will discuss each of those components in turn.

One of the reasons we’ve thrown our support behind the Bookworm online ebook reading system as part of O’Reilly Labs is to help support the development and testing of new standards like this one, and we’re excited to contribute to this new initiative. It’s also great to see Adobe support this as well, and is a nice follow on to our work with them on EPUB output for the open-source DocBook XSL stylesheets.  

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