A highly contentious move in the world of digital publishing has resulted in a combination of forces between the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a move that has caused no small measure of division among members and stakeholders.
The IDPF proposed the measure last May at BookExpo, and the backlash was swift and loud. One of the key opponents of the move has been Steve Potash, a founding member of the IDPF and current CEO of digital media distributor OverDrive. Potash’s stance has always been that this move is too fast and does not come with any kind of transparency as to how W3C plans to move forward with the IDPF’s flagship development of the ePub3 standard.
Prior to the development and widespread adoption of ePub, digital book creators had to endure multiple file formats in order to reach as wide an audience as possible. Compatibility issues plagued readers and for all intents and purposes, slowed down the widespread adoption of e-reading. It’s no small coincidence that ePub was established as a broad-audience file format and the digital publishing revolution took off (admittedly, this came along around the same time Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader and built an increasingly stocked catalog of titles).
Potash cited another concern in an article last month, one that has gotten a lot less traction but that is perhaps the most valid point: “Another concern is that the merger may result in a lack of representation of the very community the IDPF was created to serve. Note that the IDPF currently charges non-profit members annual dues of $775, and for-profit members $775 to $5,750. The W3C charges non-profit members annual dues of $7,900, and for-profit members $7,900 to $77,000, an increase of nearly 1000 percent.”
If membership in the decision-making body over much of the digital publishing sphere is only available to the limited few who have the resources to join, we’re faced once again with a “gatekeeper” situation where only the major players will have a voice. The digital publishing revolution has gone hand-in-hand with the indie publishing revolution–which is inclusive of both self-published authors and the publishing houses that don’t have quite the clout of the Big Five–and it was the indie publishers who provided much of that early content that fed the original, very expensive e-readers. Without these “small players” in the game, e-readers might not have taken off as the original models had very little content to easily buy and download. Overlooking their contributions to the cause and leaving them out in the cold again will have serious consequences for the state of the industry.
The IDPF has maintained all along that the vote does not mean the merger will happen; it was only a litmus test of the membership’s interest in joining forces. Now, however, the agency has issued a statement that the merger is expected to take place by January of next year, and the IDPF will be absorbed into the W3C.