Yet, despite all the signs of a burgeoning e-book business, e-books are frequently measured against digital music downloads, as well as their revenue percentage compared to the overall book market—and many in the industry are still waiting for the e-book’s true “iPod moment.”
While that moment may not have occurred in the past year, some genuine and interesting progress has been made.
At Digital Book 2008, much of the focus of the day-long conference was on the industry’s adoption of the .epub (EPUB) digital format—a standardized way of creating e-books so that publishers don’t have to publish proprietary formats to suit each individual e-book retailer. EPUB, a result of work by the IDPF, is the file extension of an XML format designed specifically for reflowable digital books and publications.
Adoption of this standard removes significant barriers to entry into the book market. If the Kindle, Sony Reader, and Mobipocket-compatible and other e-book devices each require a separate document format, a publisher has to create at least three versions of each e-book it publishes. With the EPUB format, a publisher creates a single version, with the onus then on the retailer to ingest that format and create proprietary e-books if they so desire. It’s similar to the ONIX standard for metadata in that the essential information that a publisher transmits is fairly generic, and each retailer can display it in its own interface.
Shatz pointed out that a major e-book issue for publishers is pricing. “Pricing pressure is probably the biggest concern, especially if [e-books] are merely substitutional.” Consumers expect e-books to be priced lower than print books, because the cost of producing them is lower. With the necessity of having to create multiple formats, however, that cost goes back up again. “Multiple formats are not ideal for us [as publishers] or consumers,” he says. Adoption of the EPUB format should transmit directly to a publisher’s bottom line by making it cheaper to produce e-books, and to price them according to the desires of the market.
Laura Dawson is CEO of Numerical Gurus, LLC, consulting company providing services to the information, librarym and book industries. Dawson has consulted to numerous organizations in these verticals, primarily focusing on solving problems related to metadata, identifiers, Linked Data, semantic web applications, and structured content.