In a recent ZDNET article, Jason Perlow described his hesitations for buying one of the new Amazon Kindle’s, which was due to its lack of EPUB support. Many responses to the article noted that the “average user” doesn’t care about the format of an eBook, only for the buying experience. I’m not going to argue on that point because in essence, they are right; the average user doesn’t care. Yet there are two real reasons why having one eBook standard is important, and these reasons will certainly impact the end user.
Publishing Infrastructure and Costs
Although most publishers will use a XML Master Format for storing the original book content, they still have to spend a lot of time, effort and costs in producing and maintaining all the different output formats they need to get their books in to the buyer’s hands. There are also no guarantees that all these different output formats will support the same kinds of features, which will mean even more resources (costs) will be needed to support these alternate formats.
Now, if the publishers only had work one eBook standard then they could spend more resources on improving their own tools to produce better output, which will ultimately give the user an even more enjoyable reading experience. Publisher will also have more resources available to give input back to the IDPF on improving the EPUB standard; bringing more and better features to the eBook world. Certainly a win-win situation for consumers and publishers. Without universal support for EPUB though, everyone will be forced to maintain multiple tool sets, which do nothing but increase costs.
I won’t bring DRM in to this conversation as it is actually independent to the eBook format itself and should not be used as an argument against embracing EPUB.
One important issue Jason brought up in his ZDNet article was that of self publishing authors. By giving independent authors just one eBook format to think about they are able to spend less time producing eBooks files and more time writing content. They’ll have fewer headaches in getting their books out to the public because all vendors will accept EPUB. With just one eBook standard, more and more EPUB-ready word processors and tools will be developed. The more authors that get content on to Amazon’s self publishing system, the more money Amazon will make. Isn’t this what Amazon wants?
Until just a couple of years ago the publishing world was in turmoil with a multitude of eBook formats it had to support, yet the arrival of EPUB had a hugely positive impact which continues to be seen today.
Sure, EPUB itself is not perfect, but it is being continually improved and with the formation of the EPUB Working Group, there are huge improvements being made right now.
I still can’t make up my mind if Amazon will ever support EPUB but I do believe that it will be more and more difficult for them to refuse to do so. Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.