Consider all the billions of dollars of hardware that Intel has moved with its “Intel Inside” logo. People want simplicity, the assurance that their computer-related products will just work. No company is perfect, but a trustworthy name can improve the odds for shoppers.
“Intel Inside” is a powerful lesson for the e-book industry, which badly needs a branded standard worthy of the public’s confidence.
How easy can e-books be to buy and enjoy, right now, when more than 20 clashing formats show up on a list at Memoware? Global e-book sales most likely are still well under $200 million, a mere speck of the tens of billions of sales of paper books, and the Tower of eBabel is no small reason, even if it’s hardly the only one.
Intel-style strategy as a kickstart for e-book sales
Mightn’t an “Intel Inside” approach be just the ticket to kick-start the sales of hardware and software related to e-books, not to mention the books themselves?
Branding of the new epub standard, then, from the International Digital Publishing Forum, could help dramatically. Consumers should be able to buy a cellphone, PDA, dedicated e-book-reader or other device and know that its e-book software will be compatible with the wares of e-stores displaying the same logo. On hardware loaded with e-pub-compatible software, the epub logo could appear as a sticker on the machines, on start-up screens, on the boxes, in the documentation, or ideally in all places. E-books should be CD-easy, and in fact, CD audio vendors have the Compact Disc Digital Audio logo to remind us of the simplicity of using their technology.
Within the world of computer hardware, though, one of the most remunerative branding campaigns just might be Intel’s own. In a quote in Intel Inside(R) Program: Anatomy of a Marketing Campaign, a marketer named Dennis Carter recalls: “I believe that there has been a lot more (industry wide) advertising because of the Intel Inside® program than there would have been otherwise. That has helped to create more PC demand. If you believe that advertising works, then more people are getting educated about the benefits of the PC because of the Intel Inside® program.” Ironically the “Inside” logo was so successful that Intel could replace it with logos that went beyond the basics. But Intel is just one company. The IDPF should stay focused on the logo as a universal certifier to reassure consumers as new hardware, programs and e-books come and go.
Benefits for many—and a boost for the IDPF in its war against Microsoft
Simply put, we’re not just talking about benefits to the IDPF itself but also—just as in the case of the Intel program—many billions of dollars of potential sales for the industry as a whole. An epub campaign would be a great marketing peg for all kinds of vendors, everyone from e-reader developers to participating book publishers, and even newspaper book sections could come out ahead, as beneficiaries of e-book-related advertising. E-books—not just for geeks only! Laudably, Sony has advertised its E Ink-based readers in book sections, and I hope that other vendors follow, especially in newspapers with cash-strapped book sections. A strong logoized epub campaign would be a good, legitimate news angle to reinforce the ads and along the way promote e-books.
What’s more, we’re talking about a potential triumph of epub as a better-branded alternative than the competition. Can you recall any slogan as catchy from AMD, Intel’s main rival? In the IDPF’s case, the rival is Microsoft, a far bigger and better-financed corporation than AMD. The sooner the IDPF can crank up a strong branding campaign, the more of a head start it will enjoy over Microsoft, which, on e-book standards matters, has decided to go its own way. AMD, regardless of the technological superiority of many of its products, never could catch up with the superior marketing approach at Intel.
Decoupling the IDPF standard from the DRM debate
In the ideal world, better technology alone would suffice, and indeed the IDPF standard has many positives going for it. But all this will come to naught if brilliant Windows evangelists at Microsoft can turn their e-book products instead into the equivalent of the Intel chips. Granted, large e-book-related companies like Adobe can try to outgun Microsoft, but it will be far easier to do so if they can focus on differences in e-reading and -creating software, as opposed to formats.
One of the best ways to counter Microsoft on the format front, and win over consumers, would be to emphasize the cross-platform, device-independent aspects of the new standard, no Windows needed, no holy operating system required. The core format, moreover, is decoupled from DRM, as in fact Nick Bogaty, the IDPF executive director, has made clear in a comment to the if:book blog: “While software can certainly wrap .epub in DRM, there is absolutely nothing in the specs which requires or mandates DRM. In fact, you can download sample .epub files at http://www.idpf.org/forums/viewforum.php?f=5, change the file extension to ‘.zip’, open the zip file, and have full access to the markup, images etc. of the digital book. We chose ZIP for .epub largely because ZIP applications were so prevalent and…open.”
Not perfect, but remedies promised
No, the IDPF format isn’t perfect; for example, I would like to see more work in such areas as reliable interbook linking, and it does not resolve the incompatibilities resulting from different vendors’ DRM systems. But Nick has promised that the group will work to address the linking issue and others, including the DRM one.
Meanwhile, in a logo context, there is an easy way around the DRM complications. Release a blue epub1 logo for nonDRMed books while making it clear in the publicity that a green epub2 logo is planned to cover both encrypted and nonencrypted books and replace the blue label. This would be a nice, fair solution for both DRM-oriented publishers and those like Baen that believe the technology harms e-books. Also, the logo would be out there promoting the standard while debates took place within the IDPF over the kinds of DRM used—a process that could take many months and maybe years, while Microsoft forged ahead.
Such a dual approach would level with consumers and, once and for all, separate the core standards issue from the DRM-or-no-DRM controversy.
Epub1, moreover, could work with books using social DRM, which differs from traditional DRM since protection occurs through owner-specific identifications on books, not encryption. Social DRM can be implemented at the server end and neatly avoid the issue of software and hardware incompatibilities on consumers’ machines.
To avoid confusion, the IDPF would not let vendors use epub1 with traditionally DRMed books—although, to repeat, the promo could prominently mention plans for a DRM-inclusive successor.
I know: I’ve made my case in business terms, rather than the socially related ones I prefer. But this is dollars-and-cents language that vendors will more likely understand. Simply put, within the IDPF, the logo issue isn’t just about the benefits to society at large, but rather about profits, too. Indecision, in the long run, could prove to be very costly.