The Digital Book World event has just wrapped up and marked the first large publishing gathering of 2013. Many of the exhibitors and speakers hyped up either EPUB3 or HTML5, as a way to distribute digital content. No one could quite agree on where the future of the industry will take us and many indie companies are focusing on one or the other. The big question that was on everyone’s mind is if HTML5 or EPUB3 will be the future of digital publishing in 2013?
In the last few weeks, Kobo and Barnes and Noble both announced that sometime in 2013 they will begin to offer full support for the EPUB 3 standard. What this basically means is that their e-readers, tablets, and pps will have expanded support for ebooks that have multimedia elements such as audio, video, narration, and interactive features. The main problem with this approach is that it makes for a good news story, but if publishers are not producing content in EPUB3, it defeats the purpose. Currently the only major publisher to announce a commitment to this new ebook standard is Hachette. Recently, the COO Ken Michaels said “HBG’s goal is to get our authors’ works out to consumers as broadly as possible, with the most engaging experience for readers regardless of device or platform, along with high quality aesthetics and entertainment. To do this in a world of rapid technological change, the industry needs standards like EPUB3 that enable a wider range of publishing creativity in handling complex layouts, rich media and interactivity capabilities. This EPUB3 release is an exciting step forward in our publishing program and will greatly benefit our readers as the industry fully recognizes the potential and fully adopts this important standard.”
SPI Global and other technology developers are proclaiming that the EPUB format is going to fade away, in light of the growing adoption of tablet reading. Meanwhile, the Book Industry Study Group and IDPF do nothing but hype the glorious future of EPUB3 and implore all companies to introduce it into the pipeline.
One of the huge issues with EPUB3 right now is that not all online readers can support it. Major companies like Amazon, Kobo, and Sony currently have not widely adopted this standard in their iOS and Android applications. Apple currently has the BEST support for EPUB3 via iBooks, but they devote zero marketing effort into proclaiming it. The crux of the issue is that if publishers distribute their content in EPUB3, it limits the number of apps patrons can use to read their content and end up having tons of EPUB2 elements in it, negating a pure multimedia experience.
CSS3 and HTML5 is a valid alternative to the EPUB3 format, because the books can be read online on any major internet browser. Instead of relying on dedicated e-reading apps, you can read the books on any major web browser on the PC, MAC, Android, and IOS. 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, but since has expanded. The main reason they developed these online reading apps is because 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 official iOS apps. They bypassed the iTunes restrictions 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, tablets, and most smartphones enjoy an online reading experience.
Most of the existing HTML5 reading apps with the largest footprint is Kobo and Amazon. The main problem is 95% of all of their ebooks are not able to display EPUB3 or dynamic content. Publishers have not adopted HTML5 and CSS3 into their pipeline to create enhanced ebooks. This is a weird situation because many of the programs they end up using to publish books are products by Adobe. In the last six months, the Adobe Publishing Suite has introduced a number of CSS3, HTML5, and other plugins to convert existing books over to this format.
The largest advantage of HTML5 based readers is the fact they can display both EPUB3 and HTML5 ebooks. Whether you are an indie start-up developing an ebook agnostic HTML5 reader or a major company, it is an easier system to invest in for the long-term. The entire reliance on dedicated apps does not have a future, it simply is not cost effective to update apps for Blackberry, iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, and a myriad of others. This often creates a severe gulf in certain operating systems never getting any love and alienating customers.
There seems to be no clear answer on the future of digital publishing. We are seeing a severe scaling back of dedicated e-reader apps and more companies investing in HTML5 based reading apps. Honestly, if you had the choice of spending a copious amount of money updating 6 apps with a new feature, or updating a single HTML5 platform, which would you choose? The industry is torn between what platform to invest in and there is an air of uncertainty on one true format to focus on. This is the main reason why enhanced ebooks are relegated to specific companies doing their own thing. Barnes and Noble and Scholastic Storia are two examples of this.
To help solve the needs of the industry in flux, Good e-Reader is currently developing an agnostic HTML5 and EPUB3 Cloud Reader and eBook Cloud Storage Locker. You can store all of your purchases from any ebook retailer and even read them via the fully featured HTML5 App. You can learn more about this project and kick in a few bucks for development HERE.
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 CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and Verge.