Last week I attended a conference in New York called Digital Book 2008, organized by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). The organizers might consider changing the name to the CIPNATA, for the Consortium for the Introduction and Proliferation of New and Arcane Technology Acronyms. Here, as Exhibit A, is an excerpt from the IDPF’s home page, which asks the question that’s been on everyone’s mind:
What is EPUB, .epub, OPS/OCF & OEB?
“.epub” is the file extension of an XML format for reflowable digital books and publications. “.epub” is composed of three open standards, the Open Publication Structure (OPS), Open Packaging Format (OPF) and Open Container Format (OCF), produced by the IDPF. “EPUB” allows publishers to produce and send a single digital publication file through distribution and offers consumers interoperability between software/hardware for unencrypted reflowable digital books and other publications. The Open eBook Publication Structure or “OEB“, originally produced in 1999, is the precursor to OPS.
Throughout this one day confab of several hundred publishing and technology executives, I heard these acronyms, and many other unfamiliar ones bandied about. Another concept that was the subject of many presentations was what is known in the business as “reflowable text”, which essentially refers to the ability of the text to maintain its formatting, searchability, and readability regardless of font or screen size. Since page numbers in a printed book are constant (page 245 is the same in everyone’s copy), digital versions of the content by necessity cannot use page numbering; if the user changes the font on the device from 10 point to 20 point, the entire book must be re-formatted and still maintain the readability. The near universal PDF standard is based on a bitmapped image of the page and does away with features such as a table of contents when downloaded to an e-book reader. Book designers and layout editors express reservations when faced with the possibility that the aesthetic quality of their publication may be compromised to accomodate the reflowability of text. This is much more of an issue for image and graphic intensive publications than plain text, so that reading a James Patterson thriller might be a more satisfying experience than browsing through say “Skydiving for Dummies”.
It’s anyone’s guess if this new format will be the one to that becomes the de facto standard for digital books. No doubt the publishing industry will learn from the Tower of Babel that the braintrust in the recording industry produced, leaving listeners to choose from a veritable Baskin Robbins of protocols, including WMA, AAC, MP3, MP4, WAV, OGG Vorbis, Chunky Monkey, etc. And of course, don’t forget everyone’s three favorite initials, DRM.
The most promising sign that the publishing world is not blindly following the recording industry down a litigious death spiral is that the new E-Pub format does not have DRM built in by default. If the publisher chooses to add it to the otherwise freely shareable e-book, then it can be done easily, (providing yet another diversion for bored high school students who will no doubt crack the DRM code while cutting their AP Physics class).