Technology will not solve Publishers eBook problems.


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It is hard to tell if this article on ePub3 could be any more wrong

The publishing industry has a problem, and EPUB is not the solution
http://toc.oreilly.com/2013/02/the-publishing-industry-has-a-problem-and-epub-is-not-the-solution.html

The author, a smart guy I assume, seems to believe that technology and more accurately, the right technology, and even more specifically DRM free, zero cost, open source books, will solve the publishers problems when it comes to eBooks and ePublishing. This is a technology guy, assuming that technology will solve a problem that has nothing to do with lack of technology.

To prove his point he makes a couple of wilding inaccurate assumptions.

First, he spends a lot of time confusing ePub (ebook publishing standard), DRM (ebook protection technology) and eReaders (display applications for ebooks) mixing them together as if they were somehow selectable features of the same basic technology pre-requisite for the ebook market. Then he jumps wildly to the assumption that if we just used HTML5 (like the web) and made all books free (like the web) that would solve everything.

I am not sure where to start disagreeing.

OK, so let me agree about one thing, the ePub standard, in and off itself, is not a solution to anything, and is wildly deficient both in specification and in implementation. The publishers have a much bigger problem, however, than which file format to use to display ebooks. They don’t even understand how to adapt to this new ebook market.

It starts with the publishers basic approach selling books. The reality is, publishers want to preserve the existing book-to-book-buyer interaction. That model works and they are making good margin on sales. Paper based books are sold at a store front, where an actual exchange of money occurs and a consumable product is provided (book). Publishers are confused by how to make money in the ebook market as there is “nothing” being sold and they are concerned (rightly so) that the “nothing” will escape into the wild and be copied forever and they will lose future ability to monetize that “nothing”.

Which brings us to the the DRM issue, let’s put that to bed right away. DRM has nothing to do with ePub or the ePub standard. DRM is a technology layered onto the ePub after it is created. The publishers are the ones mandating the DRM restrictions on ereaders. DRM has been proven in other markets (songs, movies) to be a restraining technology not enabling. Apple turned off DRM in itunes for songs and they started selling MORE songs, not less. The publishers are at least 5 years behind the curve on this one.

As far as the ebook standard is concerned ePub3 is brutally outdated. It is incomprehensible that they wouldn’t simply mandate the use of HTML5. All that is required is come up with a simple wrapper structure for multi-file HTML5 content and allow offline viewing, problem solved (seriously it is that simple). The browser technology already exists to render HTML5 content is literally all  mobile platforms. But HTML5 is not the solution, in the same way that ePub is not the solution, it is simply a technology.

What is actually needed is to create an open eBook market place, one that authors can access and want to use, various technologies will fill the gaps and make it work.

As far as the concept of making books free is concerned this is absolute nonsense. Every author or publisher wants to get paid for their work, “the web” and HTML5 is not a solution for this. The public has been trained that they can get content for free, but we also know that same public will pay for content they feel is worthy and some things are worth paying for.

Authors need to realize that just because they spent the last year writing a book doesn’t mean anyone want to read it (or pay for it). The same authors that had rejected manuscripts sitting in their home office two years ago are now able to self-publish and become indignant when someone suggests that $14.99 might be a bit steep of a price to pay for that same rejected book.

Authors, if publishers aren’t going to do it for you then you need to earn your own pay check…you need to build audience and build demand for your writing, then you can start to make money on your work. Publishers have traditionally acted as the gate keeper for this, once you got past them you likely made money, now everyone is a (self) published author and there are no gate keepers but this doesn’t mean there is somehow a lot more pay-worthy work.

To succeed authors (and publishers) need to embrace the concept that some content can be given away for free and then they need to learn when and how to move from free to paid. Newspapers and magazines are struggling with pay-walls now, with huge backlash, and they have experience putting content on the web for years, how are print authors and publishers expected to cope, this is an environment in which they have no experience. Publishers need to treat authors like partners and not milking cows that are just there to be exploited.

Publishers need to wake up and realize that they are losing their power. The web and ereader (hardware and software) combined with easy to use and free to access self-publishing tools is making them irrelevant, the consumer will decide what is good and what isn’t, they don’t need publishers to tell them.

Authors control the written word (content) and the channel partners (Amazon, Google, Chapter etc) control the ereader (customers), what is left for the publisher?

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One thought on “Technology will not solve Publishers eBook problems.

  1. Valuable information. Fortunate me I discovered your
    website by chance, and I’m surprised why this accident didn’t took place earlier!
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