E-bookers should watch the IDPF carefully to make certain that neither Adobe nor any other company turns .epub into a proprietary standard through extensions or otherwise. But guess what one of the best countermeasures is? Use of .epub! And noticing suspicious situations and pointing out omissions, which ideally the IDPF can address in time—for example, lack of reliable interbook linking!
Readers and publishers of all kinds, then, not just public domain people but also Random House and little publishers, should thank the open-source-based Feedbooks site where co-founders Hadrien Gardeur and Loïc Roussel are fighting the good fight for genuine compatibility and setting a good example.
Tolstoy and scores of other writers already in .epub
From Tolstoy to Orson Wells and Creative Commons-licensed writer Cory Doctorow, Hadrien and Loïc now offer scores of authors via a beta treatment of the .epub format. Hadrien has invited e-bookers to sample his free wares, and, yes, when I used the easy-to-install OpenBerg plug-in for Firefox, things went smoothly. Page transitions via the space bar were a little sluggish, but that’s very possibly a Firefox thing rather than an OpenBerg problem. I may update this item when I’ve sampled the Feedbook offerings further. Bottom line: the .epub action now indisputably extends beyond dotReader and Adobe Digital Editions and other commercial products. (Update, 5:12 p.m.: I should have mentioned the wonderful FBReader, too, especially since it’s the program I use on my Nokia 770.)
Congratulations to OpenBerg, of course—see OpenBerg-related threads at MobileRead. Yes, I know. OpenBerg in its present form isn’t the ultimate e-book reader; I don’t know if it plays well with CSS, for example. But it’s a great start, a wonderful way to begin to befriend .epub. I hope that someday Firefox and all other popular browsers can come with native .epub capabilities, or at least that many more .epub add-ons will show up for browsers.
Open source creation tool available as well
Hadrien also, by the way, has a linux-based open source creation tool for .epub. So, Project Gutenberg, shouldn’t you, too, keep an open mind about .epub—all the time looking for deficiencies? Based on its role in the jailing of a Russian hacker, not to mention a gigantic list of DRM-related sins, Adobe isn’t the most beloved company in the public domain and open source communities. But let’s care less about Adobe’s involvement and more about mechanisms for continually monitoring the purity of the standards.
Like it or not, big-time commercial publishers plan to use .epub to one extent or another. PG should involve itself, then, with what will increasingly be a mainstream format. Same for Matt McClintock at Manybooks.net. And if the IDPF is smart, it will cherish public domain people’s interest in the format. If the .epub survives the public domain community’s scrutiny, this will signal to publishers and the public alike that the format is trustworthy.
Needed: Credible tire-kicking
Few publishers and perhaps none really have in-house technical resources to completely vet .epub and related standards. This is one situation where crowd-sourcing ties will actually help commercial interests.
I also hope that demanding scholarly presses and scientific presses will fully embrace .epub and publicly point out any flaws, so that the publishing and library communities can encourage the IDPF to address them.
A “must read” from Jon Noring
Meanwhile I would urge TeleBlog readers to check out Jon Noring’s new post on the handling of footnote equivalents in .epub.
Jon writes that “we must not be constrained by following the limitations of print, but to transcend print and be able to digitally present content in ways better than print. Displaying annotations in popups, for example, is one such ‘better way.’ EPub certainly provides the framework to display out-of-spine annotative content in powerful ways — it is now up to reading systems to enable it and for publishers to take advantage of it.”
So will publishers feel comfortable with the handling or footnoting—or nonfootnoting, as the case may be? I’d welcome further opinions from everyone, but especially thoughts from those directly involved.
Related TeleBlog item: .Epub coming to Feedbooks: Merci, Hadrien!.