This week I had the pleasure of attending the sellout IDPF Digital Book Conference at BookExpo America in New York, a two-day event covering current and emerging technologies in the book publishing industry. Of course with IDPF sponsoring the conference, much was centered on EPUB and specifically the influence of EPUB 3.0 (or simply 3) on publishers and developers embracing uniform standards for the creation of digital content. This is a good thing!
A bit of background for those unfamiliar: IDPF is the International Digital Publishing Forum, a consortium of participating companies and experts in the field of software engineering and book publishing defining standards around authoring, organizing, and packaging electronic content. The IDPF standards body, much like the W3C for Web standards (HTML, CSS, etc.), is responsible for defining and publishing uniform standards, chiefly EPUB at the core, that the industry should endorse and implement. I say should because standards are much like recommendations — you are free to do your own thing but usually with repercussions that manifest later when your own thing does not align with the rest of the industry.
Many electronic book formats exist today. A click on this Wikipedia page will leave your head spinning. To an extent, one format is not better than the other; all serve a purpose and have their strengths and weaknesses. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all play in the same sandbox together? I believe EPUB 3 is the future allowing just that. Considerations for device/platform agnosticism and flexibility in content creation are at the heart of EPUB. After almost twenty years of developing software, I can attest that standards are imperative and must be implemented (if available) not only to solve domain-specific problems but to create interoperability, allowing software to play well together.
This brings me to one final point regarding our recently announced TREEbook™ platform: a TREEbook™ content file is an EPUB! We embrace IDPF-standard EPUB in our design and creation of digital content. What this means for our customers is that a TREEbook™ will display on all EPUB-compliant platforms, but to get the full experience a TREEbook™ has to offer, you will want to read it on our soon-to-be-released Medallion Media app.
Okay, back to the conference.
Here is my rundown of key takeaways and commentary.
Day one’s opening keynote address, “The Attention Economy,” was presented by best-selling author Seth Godin. Seth explained his Domino Project. In a nutshell, the goal here is to connect with your readers. As an author or publisher, you must engage your reader, who is your customer, at all times. As Seth commented, “There is no contention for shelf space,” and “Obscurity is the biggest barrier for an author,” both leading to the conclusions that vastness in digital content means customers have more choices (not limited by what’s on the shelf) and that to stand out and be discovered, you must establish a meaningful relationship with your customer.
Another interesting talk was presented by Richard Nash of Small Demons, titled “Preparing for Life after the Download.” Richard makes an interesting comparison between digital music and books, specifically the commoditization of electronic books. It won’t be surprising to see prices drop for e-books in the near future; volume of sales will be needed to sustain profitability. Spare the economics, to succeed one must, to paraphrase Richard, bridge the gap between authors and readers by providing services that grow creative writing communities. Furthermore, building a platform authors can use to reach their customers is necessary in the evolution of publishing and writing. At Small Demons, there is much more to a book—connections and references to other art forms, people, events, all intertwined. I encourage you to visit their site.
The remaining talks I attended were technical, but Liza Daly of Safari Books Online presented an interesting concept of streaming digital books. In her presentation titled “Streaming Digital Books: EPUB 3,” Liza makes a good point about not looking at EPUB as a single file but peering into the content as individual components that can be delivered independently at runtime. As an example, she encourages us to consider a user wanting to read the book in Spanish. If the platform allows, a system could deliver the Spanish rendition of the novel, thus excluding other languages. I concur with Liza that we will see EPUBs bloating in file size as high-resolution images to support very high-resolution (Apple Retina) displays are packaged in the EPUB container. The approach in delivering just-in-time content works well in a scenario where, say, an e-ink device is unable to process high-resolution images so a content delivery system would forego downloading images to the device. The downside is handling offline modes, but perhaps an EPUB could be dynamically generated on-demand and downloaded once to a device. The device would then have an EPUB packaging only the minimum needed to render content constrained to limits the device imposes. I’ll add more on this topic in a separate post.
In conclusion, IDPF Digital Book Conference was a great event. I had the privilege of meeting many professionals in the industry and enjoyed good conversations with Marcus Gylling, CTO of IDPF, and Matthew Robertson of Evident Point, who leads development efforts at Readium, which I suspect we will be involved in soon.
Look for Medallion to release the first TREEbook, The Julian Year, by Gregory Lamberson next year!
I can be reached at brian (at) medallionpress.com. Shoot me a message and follow me on Twitter: @TripleThreatMob.