Many digital publishing companies are increasingly looking to iOS and Google Android to make standalone apps for their ebooks or digital properties. They also deal with the traditional ebook format that is available via online retailers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. Dedicated app development geared towards a singular platform normally warrants an extensive programming department to generally refine the apps over time and add new content. Digital publishers and online retailers all make apps to garner customers’ dollars and offer distribution systems to push sales to the end user. HTML5 seeks to disrupt the current model everyone is employing through the entire digital publishing industry.
Last year, Google released the source code for its browser based ebook 20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web. It features a very solid animated book, complete with page turn animations. Most of the content is highly interactive and publishers can easily insert a picture and the text will automatically conform to where the picture is dragged within the book. It revolutionized the way that electronic books are accessible via a multitude of web browsers. Instead of making a dedicated app to conform to the ebook format, they made the ebook format available to be read on existing platforms in tablets, iPhones, computers, and every other mobile device.
Amazon and Kobo have already taken advantage of HTML5 by opening the Kindle Cloud Reader and the Kobo Cloud Reader. These were initially designed and made available to buy, purchase, and read books on the iPad and iPhones. Apple had implemented a policy last year that demanded all in-app purchases be made by iTunes. This resulted in these two companies disabling the functionality to buy electronic content through their apps. They bypassed this by developing a fully featured HTML5 based store app that functioned like their iOS or Android equivalents. The great thing about this is that accessibility now reaches beyond people with iOS. It allows unsupported devices like the Blackberry Playbook and the new Metro interface to Windows 8 to give you a full reading experience. Instead of relying on the companies to develop apps for a singular platform, ANY platform can read these books or access the webstore using the browser over Wi-Fi.
To be honest, Kobo and Amazon have never really drawn attention to their Cloud Reader apps, and thus they remain a fringe program. If you don’t bash people over the heads that it exists, it’s hard to garner a large user base.
If you look at the digital publishing industry as a whole, it is rapidly growing. Penguin recently announced that ebook sales were up 35% in the 3rd quarter of 2012 vs 2011. The company has decided to merge with Random House to form a giant publishing company. Obviously, they are doing this to consolidate resources, but also have more bargaining power with online distributors like Amazon. This new mega-company would have more control developing its own HTML5 based books and selling them from its own website. Not only would the ebooks be harder to pirate with the inclusion of digital watermarks, but this would allow users to read their purchased books on any platform with a web-browser.
One of the most highly contested debates these days is between books that are encrypted via Digital Rights Management and books that are free to share. We also see many different ebook formats like AZW, EPUB, PRC, PDF, TXT, RTF, CBR, CBZ, and many more. This frustrates the average user, who just wants to buy a book on their Kindle and read it later on their Nook or on their PC. As it stands, you can’t read books purchased from Amazon on any other device. If you want to buy a book from Barnes and Noble and read it on your Kobo, you need to use complicated software like Adobe Digital Editions. Selling the HTML5 based version and using any e-reader, tablet, and PC’s web browser would give you a fuller experience and cut down on the manual work customers have to do just to enjoy their book. This would seriously disrupt the conventional way that people use different ebook formats.
HTML5 books make more sense than paying an exorbitant amount to your programming department to make dedicated apps for all the popular platforms. It would also appeal to people using Blackberry, Meego, Linux, or any other operating system to buy and read books. Make no mistake, HTML5 based books would allow publishers greater control over their content and allow authors to embed the book in their own site to sell copies. Developing for one platform, the web, makes more sense than developing five different apps and having to constantly fix them and introduce new features.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.