Big Idea: The Future of Ebooks Is on the Web
Book Business asked industry thought leaders to discuss the big ideas that are changing the book industry. We are excited about the future of publishing, and we hope these essays invigorate you with new and illuminating perspectives on that future. View the complete essay collection here.
Years from now, we'll look back on 2014 as the year the web came for our books.
It was in August of 2014 when the World Wide Web Consortium, the standards body for the World Wide Web, held its first Digital Publishing Interest Group. Prior to that point, the W3C had been holding investigative meetings, trying to determine whether or not it was in the web's interest to pursue the publishing industry as a potential partner and implementer of web technology. The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) had recently revised its EPUB ebook standard, incorporating the newly-developed HTML5 functionality. It was becoming clear to W3C that unless there was some cooperation with web standards, the book publishing industry was in danger of creating less stable, proprietary standards that would ultimately be very costly for the industry to maintain, and would confuse web developers who were coming from non-book-publishing backgrounds.
For those not familiar with how an EPUB file is constructed, it is essentially an HTML file zipped up with a table of contents and some specifications as to how the file should display. Some have referred to it as "a website in a box." Ebook readers are, more or less, browsers constructed specifically to read ebook files (the basis for Kindle ebooks is also HTML). The only difference between an ebook and a website is that an ebook has to be downloaded onto a device. And with the introduction of cloud readers such as the Kindle Cloud Reader or the Nook For Web reader, the differences between websites and ebooks practically disappears.
But until the Digital Publishing Interest Group was created (and chaired by members of IDPF), the two worlds of web development and book publishing had not intersected. Now that they have, what could potentially come out of the group?
My primary reason for participating is my job as an expert on metadata and identifiers in the book industry. We've used ISBNs since the 1970s, ONIX since the 1990s. These standards structure how readers find books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and many other websites. EPUB files contain their own metadata. And certainly the web was built on identifiers (URLs/URIs) and metadata (webpage markup, among other things). As ebooks edge closer to websites in construction, the use of identifiers such as ISBN, ISSN, and ISNI-as well as the use of metadata, such as we have in ONIX-will be extremely useful embedded in the actual HTML of the book. We will be able to link from book to book much as Wikipedia does entry to entry.
We have a long way to go before we get to that point, but the fact that book publishers are now joining W3C is a sure indicator that this is the direction we're headed in.
Laura Dawson is a project manager for Bowker Identifier Services.
Related story: Big Idea: How Books Can Move Beyond the "Tradigital"
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.