That’s the title of an article by Peter in Publishers Weekly.  Here’s an excerpt:

Any library fighting to preserve access to digital books faces an nearly impossible task when confronted with Author’s new ibooks. There’s no independent platform capable of hosting these books beyond the iBookstore, and no way to drive lending. Readers wishing to take advantage of ibooks must be Apple iPad users, and no library will be maintaining an inventory of iPad bling until iPad pricing drops far lower than it is now. Even then, the tying of the ibooks format to the iPad device interferes with the library’s mission to provide as broad access to published literature as possible. It also prevents libraries, whether public or national, from preserving ibooks files in a way that ensures continual access by future generations.

Libraries can’t benefit from forked ebook standards, and they can’t benefit from proprietary platform silos, whether they’re Apple’s or Amazon’s. Should Amazon respond with its own KF8 format authoring development, the race is on to a rich universe of compelling, interactive, visually rich ebook content. But that race leaves libraries stuck at the starting post. Only if an independent rich authoring environment that generates EPUB3-compliant files emerges – which I think it will – will the library market benefit. Whether or not there will be attractive neutral distribution channels for vanilla EPUB3 files, however, remains to be seen.

Thanks to Michael von Glahn for the link.


  1. A non-proprietary interactive ebook tool (like iBooks Author and whatever Amazon gets out there for their new format) to create ePub3 isn’t going to be out there any time soon unless someone is willing to fund it or round up a bunch of open source programmers with free time and an interest in such a thing.

    It’s not in the best interest of either Apple or Amazon (they are businesses, after all, not charitable institutions) to create something to generate content for those outside of their ecospheres. Expecting them to do so is a bit unrealistic.

  2. Actually, Apple is doing everybody a big favor.
    All their ebooks have always non-compliant with the epub spec. The only thing new is they’re no longer giving even lip service to supporting the spec for commercial ebooks.
    iBooks are whatever Apple says they are.
    Just as Kindle books are whatever they say and Kobo books are whatever they say.
    No handwringing needed there. And since Apple is not in the business of solving other people’s problems, they are well within their rights to go proprietary. There is no law that says they have to make the product useful to libraries.

    Apple’s defining quote for 2012: “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.”

    Apple saw epub has a leadership vacuum, assumed it was going nowhere, and gave up the pretense that epub is a standard worthy of respect.

    With the epub3 transition upon us, their move finally forces the epub camp to understand that their spec does not define a viable commercial product and, unless they *want* a balkanized ebook industry (not necessarily a bad thing for some, or even most, people) they need to finally (and quickly) define an actual commercial ebook standard, with enforcement provisions. And soon.

    But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  3. I am surprised an open source development project has not come about yet to create a comprehensive application to deal with ePub creation and editing. I would imagine that it would not be a very complex programming job as the ePub standard is a simple one in that regard.

    Felix is correct in his statement about Apple. Apple, in launching this very restrictive application, is clearly gambling that their product is so good that it is going to dominate the market or capture a significant chunk of the market in this genre of eTextBooks. If it turns out to be a fantastic product then it has a chance of doing so. If not, Apple will fail.

  4. @Howard: Well, there is the Sigil editor for ePub.
    The epub enthusiasts rave about its wysiwyg epub editing plus its ability to let you manually edit the code.
    But what is really needed is more akin to the old MS Publisher app, whhich is what iAuthor plays like.
    Apple’s proprietary play right now is particularly interesting because, like Amazon’s KF8, it preempts any generic epub3 play Adobe might have up its slleeve and it severely undercuts any of their client-state vendors who might’ve been waiting for a generic solution.
    If both can get enough market traction in the next 3-6 months, it would be very hard, if not impossible, for the ADEPT ecosystem to catch up.
    As I said, a balkanized ebook industry would actually suit some of the upstream payers just dandy, especially the ones that dont want to see ebook libraries.
    That alone might be reason enough, for them, to jump into bed, again, with apple.

  5. Felix – when a new market emerges it is often a temptation for players to try to capture the most of that market though their own proprietary system. That’s business and I understand it.
    But as a market matures and inevitably fragments, and market share becomes stagnant, users have tended to get frustrated by this proprietary situation and a momentum builds behind an open format.

    It is in the interests of all indie publishers and writers and distributors to encourage the development of open standards and open source applications of quality. if they do that, it will capture the imagination of users and readers and distributors and put huge pressure on proprietary companies like Amazon and Apple.

    Because ePub is such a relatively simple standard I cannot grasp why this has not at least started, though maybe it has and I haven’t heard about it.

    As tablets and eReaders become more and more ubiquitous, readers will become less and less tolerant of proprietary standards. There is a big prize up for play.

  6. @Howard – You’re right about young markets. It happens because proprietary solutions are *always* faster than committee negotiated soutions. What does *not* aways happen is the stagnation and migration to open formats. In fact, history has shown that well-maintained proprietary solutions can stay ahead of open solutions *indefinitely*.
    IBM maintained their proprietary mainframe line for 50+ years, which in computer tech is an eternity.
    Microsoft has maintained their PC market share against all comers for 30+ years and Apple’s iPod hegemony is closing in on 10 years.
    The way I read it, Apple got into ebooks late, was spooked by Amazon and decided they hide behind the facade of epub support. After two years they realized epub lip-service was buying them nothing and *more importantly* epub is headed for a generational discontinuity where the very definition of what epub is is in play.
    Even without Apple’s fork, epub was and is headed for a year or more of disruption.
    My own expectation, here and elsewhere, has been that Apple would be the first to implement epub3 and that is what they’ve done. They’re just doing it with proprietary mods (probably added late in the game) to take better advantage of first mover perks and to make sure publishers committing to ibooks stay committed.
    Think of it as upstream lock-in to complement consumer lock-in.

    I would suggest that the evolution of ebooks to open standards (like DVDs, for one) is far from assured because unlike the music and video industries, where the dominant oligarchs control the bulk of the content, in books even the Price-Fix Six as a unit are still a minority. Factor in cultural protectionism, economic nationalism, and economic protectionism, plus traditional regional publishing rights and the balkanization of ebooks “solves” a lot of problem for the traditional publishers in a lot of markets. Textbooks being one.
    Libraries, if the model survives, is another.
    Also, I can easily see China, India, Japand, and Brazil, among others (France comes to mind) taking advantage of the migration to epub3 to create national ebook ecosystems closed to the existing players. (Which, let’s not forget: are all american.)

    Finally, the ebook industry is already starting to ressemble another content industry that has remained balkanized and proprietary for multiple generations over 30-plus years: gaming consoles. And the fact is the recreational reading industry is closer to modern videogames than to movies and music. So don’t expect a revolution coming from mainstream consumers in that arena.

    Bottom line: yes, the market is young and that is one reason why the proprietary walled gardens are successful to date, and more so than the purportedly open solution, but there are other factors at play and there is no reason why the approach cannot be sustained indefinitely.

    And *that* is why Apple’s fork play is significant beyond its impact to libraries and textbooks.

  7. Felix – of course you are right, there are exceptions. My intention was to refer to markets that fragmented and I believe the principle stands, in the main.
    ePub is of course an open standard.
    I believe things may well change significantly in the coming two years in terms of standards and cross platform operability depending on the way the EU, and US respond to the competition and inter operability issues.
    eBooks are not games and I believe they are so completely different that I can’t see the market being comparable.
    So yes there may not be a move to open standards across the board but that may be compensated for by eReader software being forced to be able to read all formats.

  8. @Howard: Note I’m talking about the *business* side of ebooks and console games. Recreational ebooks and modern *console* games are both long form entertainment that take up significant time commitments from their consumers. Both are immersive and narrative-driven, often part of series, and fit into discrete genres with specific target audiences.
    Both industries are fragmented geographically, dominated by walled-gardens, and combine a mix of platform-holder exclusives, negotiated partner exclusives, and cross-platform content. The XBOX ecosystem even features a deep self-published game zone as well as a retro-game (backlist!) section.
    Really, there is very little conceptual difference between XBOX Live and Amazon’s Whispernet (as content delivery systems and marketting tools) and even less when you look at the Fire version.
    As for epub’s status as a “standard” don’t rely overmuch on it; interoperability of ebook content is not particuarly in today’s marketplace which is one of the reasons why Apple’s fork is very likely going to work for them.
    epub, as a specification, does *not* define an actual consumer product.
    Consumers don’t buy epubs; they buy Kindle books, Nook books, Kobo books, and now iBooks. All distinct, all different.

    Finally, consider another content market that is *actually* built on a true standard: DVDs. It is *still* geographically balkanized on purpose by content providers. DVD players feature region codes, remember? There is no reason why publishers can’t solve their geo-restriction problem by introducing ebooks with region codes and it is a “fine” way for cultural protectionists to keep out foreign players from their god-given preserves. 😉

    It is early in the ebook era; we have yet to see the full extent of the manuevers the entrenched players will resort to in order to maintain their local hegemonies.

  9. Felix – It’s interesting you mention the DVD and the regional limitations. Most people are not aware of this so much now because so many people buy DVD players that bypass the code.

    “It is early in the ebook era; we have yet to see the full extent of the manuevers the entrenched players will resort to in order to maintain their local hegemonies.”

    I agree 🙂

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