"E-Book Standards" - really?

"E-Book Standards" - really?

In the jostle for market share in the tablet space Amazon is betting it will sell a great deal of content through the Kindle Fire as unlike its fierce competitor Apple it does not make money on its hardware sales. The disappointing financial results released by Amazon this week have caused a stir amongst publishers not to mention shareholders. How well content is selling on the Kindle Fire is largely unknown at this point, especially for publications. However, we may be able to deduce something from the technical specs for the new KF8 format. In short, Amazon have developed their own way of displaying illustrated, graphical content on the device, which causes a few headaches amongst publishers.

 I am sure that most publishers would agree that the pace of innovation and change is staggering in the digital world. Software companies like us become important knowledge bearers for the publishers we work with. We are frequently relied upon to keep them up to date with the techie stuff. So here goes:

 Amazon's Kindle format 8 (KF8) relies on a completely separate process to create a fixed layout e-book than Apple's version of fixed layout for titles that are design-led e-books. Both are based on XHTML, but there are important differences in how pages are laid out. With KF8, each page has to be specified as either portrait or landscape by the creator of the book, and one double page spread that you view in a fixed layout e-book on the Kindle Fire is one XHTML file. In iBooks fixed layout e-books, each of the two pages in a double page spread is a separate XHTML file, and individual pages can be rendered in both orientations. There are also various other notable technical limitations in the current version of KF8 for the Fire. You cannot currently play audio or video with KF8 e-books on the Kindle Fire, although you can do this on Kindle e-books within Kindle apps on the iPad and there is no support for read-along e-books. Finally, there is no pinch and zoom on a page. Instead, KF8 has a feature called 'region magnification' which allows the text to pop up when tapped to aid reading. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, but the feature is a further move away from a single standard.

 Kobo like to portray themselves as the nice guys of digital publishing and have helped publishers out by following similar specs to Apple's fixed layout EPUBs. They also support read-along children's books and some JavaScript on their VOX platform. However, they do not currently support embedded video within their e-books. So there is some standardization taking place.

 The Nook, we think, is a well crafted device that may be heading over here. However, its format is a bit of an enigma as B&N have developed their own tools for creating illustrated content for their devices – in fact, separate sets of tools for their Nook Kids books and for what they call PagePerfect books, used for cookbooks and art books

 At YUDU, we are currently working on an easy to understand grid which outlines the major platforms and e-book stores and what functionality they provide. It will be published as a live document to be continually updated as new devices enter the market, etc. More to come on this!

 In conclusion, e-book standards are the right aspiration to keep publishing costs down, but in practice, standardization does not seem to fit the strategies of the large technology companies like Apple and Amazon who see setting their own standards as a source of competitive advantage especially as the digital content becomes ever more complex.