OK, gang. Parse this exchange between USA Today reporter Edward C. Baig and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, amid the ballyhoo for the third-generation Kindle:
Q: Why doesn't Amazon support the popular "e-pub" standard used by your competitors and many libraries?
A: We are innovating so rapidly that having our own standard allows us to incorporate new things at a very rapid rate. For example: Whispersync (which uses wireless connections to sync your place in a book across devices) and changing font sizes.
Other standards over time may incorporate some of these things. But we're moving very quickly to improve the state of the art. It's very helpful not to have to wait for some third-party standard to catch up.
Chris Meadows nicely shot that one down. So ePub at one point would not even allow font-size changes? Come on, Jeff. From afar I love the better traits of the new Reader and may buy one myself, and I recognize that the Amazon has its share of positives. Respect for e-book standards just isn’t one of them.
In fairness to Jeff, I’m also grouchy toward the International Digital Publishing Forum, the creator and developer of ePub. He is right about the group’s inadequacies. Two years ago and probably earlier, I myself wrote on the sync issue, suggesting that the IDPF come up with an industry standard (since we’re not talking about format matters per se, I’d have been happy simply IDPF simply recognizing others’ efforts in this area). No such luck. Whatever the reason, the IDPF has been too bleepin’ snailish in the past. I hope that changes, and in fact there are signs it might.
Regardless of Jeff’s monopolistic aspirations and the IDPF’s past slugishness, we need standards for the entire e-book industry to make e-books a truly durable medium; and rich corporations like Amazon and Adobe should be willing to help pay for the technical capabilities for the IDPF to keep up. Yes, Jeff: you should be in the IDPF, just as Google and Apple already are. You’re a freeloader if you’re not. Your dissing of Mobipocket format books—on which some hapless buyers spent hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars for proprietary-DRMed editions they can’t enjoy on their iPads—shows how trustworthy you are on format matters. Mobipocket the company was once in the IDPF. But it isn’t now. Corporate pressure, now that Amazon owns it?
Meanwhile I’d suggest that the library world and other large buyers and potential buyers of e-books lay down the law for Jeff. “ePub when possible, or we won’t give you business. We’ll buy Kindles in small quantities or on our own to see what you’re up to. But no large institutional buys of Kindles or books in that format.” Hello, American Library Association? How much do you care about open standards? I’m going to send this post to an ALA tech expert and find out what the group is up to. Any chance ALA can come up with formal collection development guidelines that position ePub as the preferred format for books that don’t have special requirements which the standard format can’t meet? Luckily, ALA’s Office of Information and Technology Policy is an IDPF member; but that should be just the start. I want action.