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Publishers Campaign For Universal E-Book Format 348

As the battle rages for control of the e-book market, publishers are starting to unite behind a common desire: a universal e-book format. David Shanks, chief executive at Penguin Group USA, said, "Our fondest wish is that all the devices become agnostic so that there isn’t proprietary formats and you can read wherever you want to read. First we have to get a standard that everybody embraces." The company's president, Susan Petersen Kennedy, explained that book publishers did not want to "make the same mistakes as the music industry, which had an epic struggle over electronic distribution and piracy and lost huge market share."
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Publishers Campaign For Universal E-Book Format

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  • ePub (Score:5, Insightful)

    by masmullin ( 1479239 ) <masmullin@gmail.com> on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:00PM (#32410738)

    Issue solved. Everyone should just listen to me.

  • It already exists. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:01PM (#32410752)


    (or *.pdf, if you're a stickler for pretty graphics).

    Coming up with a "new standard" at this point is just wasted effort.

  • by Dragoniz3r ( 992309 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:03PM (#32410778)

    Susan Petersen Kennedy, explained that book publishers did not want to "make the same mistakes as the music industry, which had an epic struggle over electronic distribution and piracy and lost huge market share."

    Well shit, even the book industry is laughing at the music industry now.

  • Comment removed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by account_deleted ( 4530225 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:03PM (#32410784)
    Comment removed based on user account deletion
  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:04PM (#32410796)

    "Our fondest wish is that all the devices become agnostic so that there isn't proprietary formats and you can read wherever you want to read. First we have to get a standard that everybody embraces."

    "Oh, and don't get me wrong, we already have good standards, but they don't suck enough. By that I mean they don't arbitrarily restrict our readers in stupid ways. I long for the day we have a universal sucky e-book format."

  • by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:06PM (#32410828) Homepage Journal

    If they mean DRM, then they should take a second look at the music industry, which dropped DRM more than a year ago.

  • Dream on... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:06PM (#32410836)

    "...First we have to get a standard that everybody embraces..."

    Good luck with that...if the battle with HTML 5 is any indication. Heck, what about document formats? Good luck with that too!

  • by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:07PM (#32410840)

    ..ink on paper. Advantages as follows:

    1. Someone will steal an iPad or eBook reader from your bag at the airport, not a dog-eared paperback.

    2. For all the tree-huggers out there, you can only use paper from sustainable sources.

    3. If it takes you 12 hours to read a book from start to finish, it will take you the same time to read the eBook. On most devices that means carrying around a spare set of batteries or finding somewhere to recharge.

    4. Electronic media is all about "me me me" whereas physical media can be loaned to family and friends, thus encouraging more social interaction.

    5. A used book can be given away to a charity or be sold to go towards the price of the next book.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:09PM (#32410854)

    (or *.pdf, if you're a stickler for pretty graphics).

    PDF is an epic fail if you're rescaling to a new "paper" size. And each reader is, of course, a different size.

    Personally I'd buy an ebook reader if it was 8.5x11 inches at readable DPI and did PDFs, because that seems a nearly world standard electronic data sheet format.

  • by Homburg ( 213427 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:09PM (#32410860) Homepage

    Ebooks in plain text are a bit of a pain in the ass - how do you break up paragraphs (one paragraph per line? Separated by a blank line? First line indented? Tab or space indent?)? How about chapters, and larger divisions (parts, books)? How does your plain text ebook include the author and title of the book in a way your ebook reader can extract? A format with a little bit of structure and metadata is a real improvement over plain text.

  • Re:ePub (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo ( 1000167 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:11PM (#32410874)
    If I recall (it's been awhile since I've taken an engineering course) the first rule of engineering is if it isn't broken, don't fix it. Why reinvent the wheel when ePub is a perfectly good standard that is already darn near universal.
  • Same mistakes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:11PM (#32410876)

    They don't want to make the same mistakes, and yet they're following the same path anyhow.


    If someone tried to sell me a security measure that encouraged thieves to attempt to steal my products while preventing my legit customers from using them and made everyone angry, I'd tell them where to shove it.

  • by schmidt349 ( 690948 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:12PM (#32410896)

    You're kidding, right? PDF is a document format designed to preserve the layout of a paper book. It doesn't reflow for different screen sizes. At all. This makes it less than useless for the current eBook market, where you have a hojillion different devices, each with its own display resolution, dimensions, and layout format.

    And encoding text characters (the job of ASCII and Unicode) is just one of a million different things that need to happen to communicate information through text. If we'd listened to you 30 years ago we'd all still be reading 80-column green text in vi, or [shudder] ed.

    ePub is the open, easy standard for electronic books. It's a no-brainer.

  • Re:ePub (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak@yaTOKYOhoo.com minus city> on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:15PM (#32410952) Homepage Journal

    In that case, use DVI for binaries and LaTeX2e for raw ASCII.

  • Re:ePub (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rary ( 566291 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:19PM (#32410994)

    Issue solved. Everyone should just listen to me.

    Issue not solved.

    It seems to me that the main complaint about ePub is that it is text-centric, and doesn't do well with any book that requires a particular formatting, or includes anything other than text. That means no comic books, obviously, but it also eliminates many Kurt Vonnegut novels, among others.

  • Re:ePub (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:25PM (#32411070) Homepage

    It seems to me that the main complaint about ePub is that it is text-centric, and doesn't do well with any book that requires a particular formatting

    That's what PDF is for. An ebook format should explicitly *not* allow for fixed layouts, as it interferes with reflow on mixed display sizes.

    That means no comic books, obviously

    Comics belong in a completely different format. They should be stored as pages of panels plus page-level layout with graphics, with the user having the option to view the original, full page layout (to appreciate the art of the original composition), or individual/groups of panels for reading on smaller-screen devices. It makes absolutely no sense to cram them into an ebook format.

  • Re:Same mistakes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:30PM (#32411144)

    The goal isn't to permanently lock down the media forever. It's to make it hard to copy during the initial high sales period. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn't.

    But flatly saying it "doesn't work" is misinformed, not insightful.

  • Re:ePub (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rary ( 566291 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:34PM (#32411194)

    But wouldn't it make sense to have one format that has the flexibility to handle different types of books? From a publisher's perspective, why would they want a different file format for their graphic novels than their text-only books? Why would they want to sell certain authors who happen to enjoy playing around with the layout of their pages separately from all the rest?

    I'm not saying ePub isn't a good starting point, but to have the "issue solved", as the original poster stated, it needs a bit more flexibility.

    Of course, none of this really matters, as the issue the publishers are really struggling with is which DRM to support universally.

  • Re:Same mistakes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by m2shariy ( 1194621 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:36PM (#32411214)
    Yes this is a DRM issue. Each vendor has it's own DRM scheme and typical reader does not support all schemes, so each vendor pretty much requires it's own device. And yes, I bought a DRM protected book for my device once, making it work was one of the most revolting computer experiences I've ever had. Since then I just download my books DRM free.
  • Re:Same mistakes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bugamn ( 1769722 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:42PM (#32411288) Journal

    But flatly saying it "doesn't work" is misinformed, not insightful.

    This is Slashdot. Saying how evil DRM is always helps karma.

  • Re:ePub (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dorkmaster Flek ( 1013045 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:46PM (#32411332)

    One of the good things with epub format is there is no standard drm layer

    There, fixed that for you.

    Seriously though, what's wrong with plain old PDF? I know EPUB is good for text, but poorly suited for things demanding a specialized layout like comics, but PDF handles that just fine. If you can plug in any DRM layer you want (or none; that's my preference), then what else do you need? Not having a standardized DRM would be good because it will immediately be cracked and then your standard is effectively dead. Well, dead if you want to actually use it with DRM, but what publisher in their right mind would want that...

  • Re:ePub (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Qwavel ( 733416 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:50PM (#32411388)

    If it has the option to plug-in any DRM then the problem isn't solved at all.

    What good does it do me to buy a book that uses this wonderful universal format, only to find that it is wrapped in DRM that only works on one platform?

  • Re:ePub (Score:2, Insightful)

    by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:52PM (#32411406) Journal

    Yeah, these douchebags could care less about text formatting or content. Their ENTIRE issue is DRM. They MIGHT consider wanting additional content options in ePub or whatever format, as long as it has this magical 'universal' DRM.

    But as long as there is no such thing, that everybody's store uses different DRM, it increases the likelihood of consumers demanding that ebooks come with NO drm, similar to what happened with the music industry.

  • by CritterNYC ( 190163 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @05:53PM (#32411418) Homepage

    They're making the EXACT same mistakes as the music industry. They don't want a universal format. We have one. It's called ePub. They want universal DRM. Which isn't gonna happen.

    The music industry tried the same thing. We wound up with multiple different DRMed formats that only worked on specific devices. All were incompatible with each other. Most were overpriced compared to CDs (the elimination of the physical distribution and associated costs should have been factored into digital sales from day one). And if someone did try to make a tool to unlock your music from a device so you could use it on another device you owned, they were sued... and it was made illegal even for fair use with bought-and-paid-for legislation in the US. So, everyone got used to stealing music, since it was the only way to actually get what you want on the device you wanted it and be able to listen to it anywhere.

    Now, the Big Publishing is making the exact same mistakes. Insisting on DRM. All of it is on different platforms in different formats. None of it works with anything else. And the pricing is absolutely absurd compared to paperback sales. So, what happens? Everyone is starting to steal books using file sharing, etc. Big Publishing is already losing, they just don't realize it yet. And for all their whining about wanting a universal format and not wanting to make the same mistakes as Big Music, history is already repeating itself.

  • by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:02PM (#32411512)

    Once again, don't forget the pollution caused in manufacturing and disposing of the electronics in the eReader device.

    As for the theft part, it still happens. Not to mention dropping an eReader or pouring a liquid over it - at worst, you have to go and buy another copy of the paper book.

    Public domain paper books can be bought for next to nothing due to copyright expiry but they're still only a small proportion of the books read by most people - and you cannot lend others DRM-protected media. Even five devices is more limited than being able to lend it to anyone.

    Yes, you can change font sizes but I seem to recall coming across books with bigger print or Books On Tape at low cost for the blind/poor sighted.

    And eBooks may be allergen free but what about the damage caused by the chemicals in the manufacture of the readers?

  • by Osty ( 16825 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:11PM (#32411616)

    You missed the fact that many people already have an ebook reader and don't even know it. Do you have an iPhone or iPod Touch? Then you have access to multiple e-readers, from commercial one-store-only readers like Amazon's Kindle, B&N's eReader (reskinned and restricted version of Fictionwise's eReader), or Kobo to open readers like Stanza [lexcycle.com] (the best reader on iDevices by far, though for best iPad support you need to jailbreak and install FullForce). Don't have an iDevice? That's okay. There are e-readers for Android, Windows Mobile, and even Blackberry. If you have a PDA or smartphone, in all likelihood you already have an e-reader.

    I also don't think your price discussion is right. Go visit forums like MobileRead [mobileread.com] and you'll see that many of the posters are actually very price conscious. The current ebook market is in its infancy at the moment and still hasn't come to the realization that DRM-free product will still sell. Until then, the limitations imposed (can't "lend" an ebook like you can a paper book, for example) are pretty obvious to end users and most people are unwilling to pay anywhere close to the price of a paper book for a restricted ebook. (that most ebook DRM has been cracked does not change that fact -- to get the industry to change you have to vote with your wallet, and if you buy DRMed ebooks only to rip off the DRM yourself later the sellers don't see the second half. They just see that they offered DRMed books and you bought them, so obviously people will buy DRMed books).

    I first started reading ebooks on a Windows CE device back in 2000, and continued reading on my iPhone since 2007. I got my first eInk reader just this past Friday, and that was only $110 (yay for Woot!). Most of my reading has been free or classic books, with the occasional purchase from Kindle's store. At this point I've pretty much stopped buying paper books.

  • Re:ePub (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:21PM (#32411708) Homepage

    When you create a PDF, you specify a particular size of the output. It makes sense since PDF was designed for print documents, and print documents are designed for a specific size of paper.

    So if you want to use PDFs, then you're going to want to standardize ebook screen sizes and resolutions. That's going to cause lots of problems. Also, if you want to resize the text in a PDF, you need to shrink/grow the entire document since text in a PDF is not designed to reflow. The only way to reflow text in a PDF is to hope that the text is actually embedded and display the text instead-- at which point your pretty much treating the PDF as a plain-text document and losing all the benefits of using a PDF in the first place.

    Its a much better idea to use a modified for of HTML (or something similar, designed to be displayed on-screen, to be screen-size independent, and to allow reflow).

  • by calmofthestorm ( 1344385 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:26PM (#32411762)

    This really is the right way to combat the massive piracy while not harassing people who want to backup their media, put it on more than one device, or possibly lend/give it to a friend or two. The fear of massive distribution would scare people off putting it online. Of course you want to make it known to the buyer that it contains watermarks, but not what kind.

    Sure people /could/ remove them if they learned how, but they will be too lazy. Everybody wins.

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:28PM (#32411798) Journal

    Now, granted, there are many things -- magazines, scientific journals, etc. -- that don't TXTify very well. But if you're just reading a Dan Brown novel or something, why do you need anything more complicated?

    You've never read a fiction book that used italic to emphasize or otherwise mark certain text parts?

  • Re:ePub (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nakor BlueRider ( 1504491 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:31PM (#32411832)
    Well, that's true of most DRM, eBook and otherwise. Still, I'd personally rather not buy DRM'd books and strip them, because that still appears to support DRM'd books from a sales perspective.
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @06:32PM (#32411844) Journal

    Between A4 and Letter, it is actually feasible to simply rescale the page to fit, without reflowing. The difference is minor enough that it won't affect the presentation in any noticeable way.

  • Re:ePub (Score:4, Insightful)

    by laird ( 2705 ) <lairdp@GAUSSgmail.com minus math_god> on Monday May 31, 2010 @07:02PM (#32412098) Journal

    "what's wrong with plain old PDF? I know EPUB is good for text, but poorly suited for things demanding a specialized layout like comics, but PDF handles that just fine."

    That's exactly what is wrong with PDF format. It is designed for capturing a precise page layout, which is great for moving printed documents around between fast computers with large monitors, but turns out to be terrible for documents to be displayed on ebook readers for several reasons. First, it does not allow text to be reflowed for rendering on smaller/lower resolution screens. Second, it's a very complex format, requiring far more software, CPU and RAM to render than is required to render a book that is primarily text.

    This is why ePub was invented - it's a simple markup language that can be easily implemented on low-end hardware, and which supports reflowing text.

  • Re:ePub (Score:2, Insightful)

    by eldridgea ( 1249582 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @08:22PM (#32412694)
    Given that this is a campaign from the publishers, they probably just want a universal format they can pass on to distributors.

    So then they can pass on the same file to Amazon/B&N/Apple and they can add in their own DRM before distributing.

    I completely agree with you, but this is probably what they meant. And we can probably assume the ebooks will take the same route as digital music. So, when DRM is removed, you can buy wherever and place wherever.

  • I cannot believe they are so worried about format as their big mistake. They have already made the mistake and that was equating ebooks to hardcover books in order to justify jacking prices to the Moon. Publishers think that since the ebook costs less than a hardcover that it's a deal - sorry it's not. I cannot trade, share, sell, or easily annotate an ebook. Likewise expecting ebook sales to support pulp sales is a huge mistake and they are making that too - they said as much by justifying high prices by talking about how much it costs to PRINT books.

    Folks, a single ebook is about 500K to download. If you do not price that thing appropriately it's going to get pirated to hell and back. At the prices Amazon WAS charging I was buying more books than I had in years and loving life. Now books are being held back and prices are near double for many books. People don't upload just one book they upload entire author catalogs and it takes minutes to download a life's work.

    After all that the industry is worried about FORMAT being a big issue? Holy shit! What a bunch of clueless fucks. They are doomed to repeat EXACTLY what the music industry has suffered if not worse. http://blog.macmillanspeaks.com/ [macmillanspeaks.com] Read that blog, what a pile of self serving steaming manure. Macmillan lead the charge for higher prices, they can now reap what they have sown as folks find alternative means with little trouble.

    There's one bright spot. Authors are waking up to the fact that they can sell on their own. they can sell to Amazon, they can sell to Apple, and they can make MORE money and sell for LESS. Anything $1.99 to $9.99 and the author gets 70% - that's huge. Books rejected by NYC big publishing are finding a welcome home on these services. The ebook market is a mess and the fact that the big publishing houses think they have much pull is a joke. This is getting sorted out without them, they can whine and cry all they want but they are farting in the wind. Get the price issues solved and give more to the author or get run over... http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com] Read the author blogs like that one, especially read the comments from other author's. They see the light, big publishing has their heads up their asses.

    My hat's off to Calibre for making format the least of my issues to worry about....

  • Re:ePub (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KahabutDieDrake ( 1515139 ) on Monday May 31, 2010 @09:59PM (#32413428)
    Maybe we should go a little further back and use the wheel that we all know and love. TXT. Or hell, HTML is a perfectly viable format for this sort of thing, with the bonus that interlinked concepts can actually be interlinked inside the document.

    I'm really not sure why or what value the consumer sees from the use of proprietary formats. Simple is good, universal is good. DRM, proprietary formats and format wars are all bad.

    Every Ebook I have is either in RTF, TXT, or HTML format. I have yet to find a device I use daily that can't handle these formats easily. That being said, I don't have an ereader, I have a cell phone that serves this purpose on the go, and a number of computers that manage it at home/work.

    I do understand that publishers want a format they can at least pretend like they can protect, but it's probably best they learn the lesson that the music industry never did... which is that effective DRM is a pipe dream. Fighting over format and distribution will lead to catastrophic losses on all sides. Further, it leads to a certain type of entitlement and resentment towards the publishers, and sometimes the authors/artists.
  • by krischik ( 781389 ) <krischik@users.sourcefo r g e . net> on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @05:10AM (#32415994) Homepage Journal

    PDF can re-flow and rescale.

  • by krischik ( 781389 ) <krischik@users.sourcefo r g e . net> on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @05:22AM (#32416072) Homepage Journal

    In my home country we don't use ASCII any more. We just like our äöü and you need at least ISO_8859-1 for that. And wife would need ISO_8859-5 for her eBooks. You guys from the US are so inconsiderate.

    And as for PDF: PDF preserves to much and is therefore unusable for different screen sizes.

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan