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CNet: IDPF-W3C Merger Will Enable eBooks to Have Tech It Already Has Which No One Wants

Earlier this week the IDPF and the W3C announced the formal completion of their merger. Subsuming the second-most important ebook standards organization(*) into the W3C will have no immediate impact on ebooks, ebook tech standards, or the ebook market, but it has inspired a surprisingly uninformed editorial over at Cnet.

Stephen Shankland thinks the merger could lead ebooks gaining tech which should sound familiar:

Generations of college students have lugged expensive textbooks around campus. But a few years from now, students could shuck that burden as web technology radically changes what exactly a book is.

Imagine a chemistry book with a pop-up periodic table of the elements for instant reference, a sucrose molecule that rotates under your fingertip to show its 3D structure, a video demonstration of titration procedures, a chat box to message the professor and a built-in quiz that directs you to any subjects you didn’t understand. Oh, and it’ll be updated continuously so it won’t go out of date as soon as element 118 gets named oganesson.

Sound far-fetched? This e-book future is possible thanks to the World Wide Web Consortium's absorption of the International Digital Publishing Forum, keepers of the Epub standard for e-books. On Wednesday, the W3C and IDPF announced their merger plans are complete.

The merger means that e-books are going to get a lot smarter thanks to a deeper embrace of web technology. While it’s simple for web browsers to show video and offer a quiz, it’s well beyond what you’ll see in e-books that you read on your Amazon Kindle. Expect that to change in coming years as e-books play a bigger role on your laptop or tablet.

Yeah, that is not anything new; Shankland is describing features ebooks have had for a couple decades. He lays out ideas found in several failed textbook starts, but do you know the worst part?

He’s talking about features which already exist in iBooks.

Yes, Shankland thinks that the IDPF-W3C merger is going to be great for ebooks because it will bring us tech Apple debuted back in January 2012.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope this merger will lead to a better ebook standard; with luck ebooks could work across platforms as well as websites work across web browsers (**).

But interactive ebooks? pop-ups? embedded videos?

We have all that, and ebook developers can use it when they want. The reason they don’t is that frequently the market doesn’t want it.

And if the best result to come out of this merger is more tech the market doesn’t want, if there’s another round of failed startups recycling old ideas with new VC funding, then is it worth having the merger in the first place?


P.S. Judging by market impact, the most important ebook standard is set by Amazon.

P.P.S. As any web developer can tell you, that was a joke.

image by tmorkemo

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Micah Bowers February 3, 2017 um 8:26 pm

Market schmarket. And I want it. Traditional publishers won’t be leading the way. Ye of little faith. The world will change in the next few years. Change is coming.

Jean-Marc Dupuis February 4, 2017 um 2:19 am

Years ago telcos came up with videophones. They tried many different types. No one used them. 20 years later video calls are familiar to everyone (Skype, FaceTime, etc). Indeed nobody buys enhanced ebooks today, but I wouldn’t bet against their potential in the long term, they do, in principle, bring extra value.

Mackay Bell February 4, 2017 um 3:23 pm

You make a good point. There are various downsides to producing enhanced ebooks that will likely disappear as technology improves. First, there’s the issue of their size and that they take longer to download. (Amazon also charges for books with larger file sizes, so authors have less incentive to produce them.) Second, there are still issues with tablets being a little too slow to seamlessly access extra media. Both of these issues will probably disappear as internet connections continue to speed up and tablets become more powerful.

Even the difficulty of producing enhanced media, say using 3D software, are likely to drop in terms of cost and time as software improves and computers become more and more powerful. Eventually it will probably come. That is, if we aren’t already in holographic rooms that surround you with images.

Laurent Le Meur February 4, 2017 um 12:04 pm

The author is right stating that what CNET dreams about can already be created with EPUB 3. And he makes a point proposing that a global ebook interoperability is one of the main aspect the market must tackle; but he’s wrong calling the Amazon proprietary format a "standard"; a "locker" may be a better word. And I still see several missing aspects in the article: 1/ creating great EPUB publications is still hard, mostly because current OpenWeb technologies (CSS and CSS browser support) do not fit with all publishing needs (pages, widows & orphans etc.). 2/ not all ebooks need audiovisual content & interaction: but educational textbooks and technical ebooks need this; there is a market coming. 3/ audiobooks are exploding, and a text-audio synchronisation is good 4/ new types of comics will emerge, tailored for digital distribution. For all these aspects, making sure that EPUB and its W3C evolution become the "Global Standards" for publications is important.

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