Even though I spend a lot of time fussing about with this blog, in the end I'm just an average consumer when it comes to ebooks. I like to read classics, best sellers, history, science fiction, literature in other languages (translated), etc. Luckily I am a very fast reader, so a copious supply of books is necessary to meet my addiction. Now here's the simple truth, I don't give a damn what format they are in, and EPUB doesn't help matters much, despite all the hype.
Why is this? Well, take classics. Who cares what the format is. I can get classics that will work on my Kindle, my broken Sony Reader, my Palm, my iPhone, my Nokia phone, etc. from many sources. I don't care if they are in azw, lit, mobi, ereader, etc. as long as I can read them, which I can. Since they come in many formats I can keep one version on my Kindle and then follow up reading it on my iPhone with eReader. To the consumer the format, then, is irrelevant. Does EPUB do anything for me here, no.
Now let's go to current publications. As long as they are not DRMed I can read them the same way I can with the classics. So EPUB isn't relevant to me there. However, if they are DRMed then I am stuck. I'm on the second volume of Stephenson's System of the World and I can only get it in a DRMed version. DRMed in Sony format, in Kindle format, or from Fictionwise in DRMed eReader, Mobi, Microsoft Reader or Adobe. This limits my reading potential. I can only read it on the platform that will support the particular DRMed format I am forced to buy. As a consumer this drives me straight to Amazon. Why? Because I can read the book on a large reader, which is my preference, but still keep a copy with me to read on my iPhone when I'm out and about. Why would I ever buy a Sony Reader in the future if Sony doesn't have an iPhone (or a Nokia or Windows Mobile) solution.
Amazon, brilliantly, has turned the ebook into the equivalent of a hardback/paperback solution. I think they are the only one who has understood the reading patterns of real people – as opposed to ebook techies. Read the hardback at home or when traveling (e.g., Kindle) and take the paperback with you when you are at the coffee shop (e.g. iPhone). It simply makes the entire reading experience more compelling. After doing it for a while I can’t imagine any other way of ebook reading.
And why am I forced to Amazon? DRM. DRM forces me to choose a platform. Does EPUB do anything here for me, the consumer? No. It is entirely irrelevant, because most of the books I want to read are DRMed, so I couldn’t are less about EPUB.
This won’t make me too popular when I go to the IDPF Conference next week, but it’s the truth. To the consumer EPUB adds nothing at the current state of the ebook market, and will continue to add nothing until the books we want to read are free of DRM and can be read on any platform we choose. Until that happens lets continue to fool with EPUB because it’s always nice to have a standard, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that that standard will help the consumer in the current DRM environment.
If EPUB wants to become relevant to the consumer, it should come up with a DRMed format that can be read on all these different platforms – a cross platform DRM solution. It’s going to be years, and years, and years before we get publishers to drop DRM so we might as well bite the bullet and deal with reality. And I bet you could even sell this to the publishers.
Cross platform DRM – that’s what the IDPF should be looking at. That would be a real boon to the consumer at the current state of the market.