Just under month ago Apple made a big splash with the launch of new iBooks app, new iTunes U app, and the new iBooks Author.
That last generated lot of fury because instead of generating a spec compliant Epub, iBA creates custom flavor of Epub with any number of non-standard components. This upset lot of people who work with Epubs, including me, but lately I’ve changed my mind.
I was reading an article in The Register earlier this evening that made me realize that it’s a little too late to complain about proprietary Epub formats; iBooks makes the 6th or 7th custom Epub format on the market now.
The article in The Register was arguing the point that Epub would win out over the Kindle format because of Apple and iBooks Author were going to pull in a user base from a young age. Those users would go on to use Epub, and so on and so forth.
I wouldn’t bother reading the article; it has many factual errors. But I did read it and I was making notes about how I would refute it. Eventually I stopped because I hit on the one point that rendered the article moot.
Epub might defeat the Kindle format, but which Epub format will do that, exactly? There are bunches.
- There’s the base Epub format.
- Kobo has a couple of their own Epub formats (KEpub, FLEpub).
- Apple has supported custom tags in iBooks since the app launched, and later launched a fixed layout format as well as audio and video tags. They also have their own DRM, and that makes even the specs compliant Epub as a new format.
- Adobe has supported their own subset of custom tags ever since their first Epub reading app. (Not many use them, but the tags are still there.)
- And B&N has their own DRM, but let’s set that aside and just consider their fixed layout format.
Depending on how you count, I have just listed between 7 and 9 Epub formats. And those are just the ones I know of; I’m deeply afraid that there may be others hiding somewhere.
What’s more, some of these formats have been round for a very long time. One of Kobo’s formats has been there since the company launched over 2 years ago (it was only used internally). B&N launched their DRM with the original Nook (2009), and they launched their fixed layout format with the NookColor (late 2010). And of course iBooks originally launched in early 2010 with custom tags and its own DRM.
But some of those still meet the Epub spec, you say. Yes, but they don’t work right on other platforms, even when the DRM is theoretically compatible. That renders the compliance issue irrelevant.
And as for iBooks Author making just the one format, and how that’s an unbearable sin in the eyes of any Epub lover – Yes, but all the other companies I listed above will provide you with tech specs to make their custom formats, while Apple is happy to give you tool to make their custom format. If one is worse, it is only by a matter of degree.
And I’ll bet dollars to donuts that B&N and Kobo are upset right now not because iBA makes a custom format but because they didn’t think to do it first. iBA gives Apple a decisive advantage over Kobo and B&N in ebook creation, so I think the others will follow suit as soon as they can.
At this point, really, there is only one key difference that sets the new iBooks format apart from all the other custom Epub formats. Apple changed the file suffix. That’s it.
So if you’re upset that Apple split up the Epub market, I’m sorry but that ship has sailed.