Moderator’s note: We welcome Nick Bogaty as a contributor, in the interest of presenting a variety of views and keeping readers informed on IDPF issues. Nick will be leaving his IDPF position shortly for his new job at Adobe. – DR

IDPFWhat does the IDPF’s .epub format mean for the e-book industry? Does it mean that publishers can stop doing multiple conversions? For reflowable e-books, the short answer is “yes.” (I say “reflowable” because publishers will still do PDF for fixed-format books if that’s what they want.) The long answer is the following:

In implementing .epub, software companies handle files in one of two ways:

1. The software imports .epub and converts it to an end-user proprietary format. There are a bunch of reasons why a company might do this, the main one being that it wants its format to do things that aren’t covered or possible in .epub.

2. The software simply reads (or renders) .epub files that a user can use, similar to how your iPod “reads” MP3 files.

Many software companies have publicly expressed support for the specifications. Some have already implemented it, some have implemented parts of it and are working on the rest, and some have said they will but haven’t yet. I’m not totally in tune with everyone’s development plans and release dates (some understandably don’t want anyone to know), but this is roughly what I gather:

  1. Adobe Systems – full support for .epub in current release under #2
  2. eBook Technologies – full support for .epub in current release under #2
  3. OSoft – full support for .epub in current release under #2
  4. SONY – full support for .epub in next release (don’t know which category, I assume #2)
  5. VitalSource – full support for .epub in current release under #1 – taking .epub as an input file from publishers in their repository
  6. LibreDigital – full support for .epub in current release under #1 – taking .epub as an input file from publishers in the LibreDigital repository
  7. iRex Technologies – future support for .epub (not sure which way iRex will implement…assume #2)
  8. Mobipocket/Amazon – future support for .epub under Category #1 (I think) – I have no knowledge of Kindle development plans; hopefully Mobipocket/Amazon will do this with the Kindle too—go here for details. Some of .epub has already been implemented in Mobi 6.0.

Notable “I don’t knows” include Microsoft and eReader (former Palm Digital Media), but .epub is an open, free and patent-unencumbered standard. and I hope all software companies entering the market use .epub as their file format.

Tip for economy-minded publishers: Get partners aboard

My advice to publishers would be to begin to work with their conversion partners to fully understand .epub and how .epub can be effectively produced. I would also have conversations with my distribution and software partners about their support for .epub.

Frankly, since there are so many software companies already on board or soon to be on board with .epub, I think this is an excellent opportunity for publishers to begin to tell their partners and vendors (or set some not too distant future date) that .epub will be the only file format for reflowable e-books that they will produce and send through distribution.

Publisher and consumer benefits

Obviously this is going to reduce conversion costs and, hopefully, increase selection for consumers. Something that time and again they say they want.

.Epub provides everything publishers need (and many many software companies will support them) to demand that multiple conversions are a thing of the past.

(Adapted from an e-mail with Nick’s permission.)

Related: eReads’ helpful writeup on .epub.