Thu 21 November 2019
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Standardisation in the Digital Publishing Market
An insight into the non-standardisation of e-book file formats which will impede on the growth of digital reading and stifle the publishing market's opportunity for growth.
Should e-book file formats be standardised?

One of the major questions that faces the publishing industry today is how it adapts to the changing world which is now so heavily dominated by technology and a population that is losing its powers of concentration. As quick internet searches and fast connections make it ever easier to get access to information, how is the publishing industry aiming to hold fast onto what has been described as a “dying art” – reading? The simple answer, it would seem, is in the form of e-book publishing or electronic book publishing.

Electronic publishing has its benefits. One of the major benefits is the cost savings that it makes as a result of reduced printing costs, distribution costs, warehouse costs and so forth. The problem that has faced publishers, whether big or small, is how to make efficiencies to make sure the greatest number of books published at the lowest possible cost to the publishing house. This heralds a marked shift in the ideologies of publishing houses, once determined to stand firm with printed books, there is now hope for the e-book industry, in part thanks to the efforts of Amazon, Sony and other major e-reader producers.

The second major benefit that it has is for self-publishers. It benefits self-publishers who, in a earlier age of printed press, would be pushed out of the industry because of costs, now have an avenue to enter the world of authorship. We should applaud this and be thankful that we are in a world that is accepting the role that technology can play in helping emerging authors enter into a competitive market. The likes of Lulu, GHP and other web-based publishing tools have created a strong market that offers choice and option to emerging authors and to readers.

The problem, of course, is in digital formatting. When e-book readers first came into the market, there was no standardised format and so producers of the readers could create their own format that was, in essence, a closed format. It wasn’t open to change and it wasn’t transferable, tying a user who has entered early into the e-book market to that proprietary system. One of the prime examples of this is the Amazon Kindle which uses the .azw format. It is a closed format that does not allow the transfer of books from different systems because other systems may use a different format. The issue here is that closed formats like the .azw format is to electronic books what DRM formats are to music, film and software. It is problematic, it is unhelpful and it pushes people away from using their systems.

One of the most standard publishing formats is the .epub format which was created by the International Digital Publishing Forum and its users include the iBooks app, the Sony Reader, the Nook and other less well-known products. The International Digital Publishing Forum should be applauded for their decision to attempt to make a standardised and uniform digital publishing format for publishers and e-reader producers. The question that hangs over our heads is why Amazon is choosing to keep its own format over that of a standard format? The reason is Amazon is interested in a closed format for the reasons I described above – it keeps people who buy the Kindle tied to the product by virtue of the closed system.

The publishing industry, authors and readers should be united in condemning the retention of closed format systems like .azw file formats and the Kindle. It’s not necessarily that we want the Kindle to stop its production but to agree to the .epub format. If Amazon chose to do this, it would benefit all of us. It would give an open system that could pave the way for e-book lending (which in itself has its own problems) and a coherent effort on the part of the publishing industry and authors towards a more environmentally friendly and adaptive way of publishing and reading books.

Contact Information
Contact Name: Ian Caithness
Contact Email: Ian.Caithness@gmail.com
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