In a 2014 talk called “An Architecture of Collaboration,” I described 12 actions publishers could take to better understand and take advantage of new sources and uses of what was once just book content.
The first of these recommendations called on publishers to join the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which maintains and improves Web standards. I elaborated on work already done by Liza Daly, who had earlier argued that the W3C needs “participation from publishers, reading system developers, e-book developers, and other thinkers in digital publishing.”
Jump ahead two years, and IDPF, the industry association that oversees the ePub standard, announced its plan to explore a merger with the W3C. The announcement pleased some, including Dave Cramer, senior digital publishing technology specialist at Hachette Book Group, who contends that the development efforts for digital reading will be enhanced with direct access to the folks who oversee Web standards.
The announcement displeased others, such as e-book and Web developer Baldur Bjarnason, who argues that the publishing standard (ePub) results in e-books that resemble the physical form of books too closely. The e-book has become a vestige of the past, the argument goes, not a format for the future.
A casual reader of the exchanges between Cramer and Bjarnason might think it’s an insider’s debate about the technical minutiae that underpin any standard. It is, however, more than that as both arguments bring you back to the long-term importance of joining W3C.
Cramer argues for getting more closely involved with the W3C. Doing so will bring the best thinking about what makes books work to the conversation about Web standards. Publishers understand books, having made them for 500 years, and they can help the people who write the rules for the Web understand what they can do to support that.
Bjarnason starts in a different place, one that he aptly described two years ago, just after I delivered my talk on collaboration. “What if an e-book is no option for your customers?” he asked.
This is a question Bjarnason had been asking for a while. In 2013 he argued that “in entering the digital arena, books (e- or not) are brought into direct competition with not only other time wasters (games, video, etc.), but other forms of reading, namely the Web and apps. If the e-book ecosystem cannot support a diversity of content and interfaces, the Web and apps will step in to fill the gaps.”
From Bjarnason’s point of view, trying to make the Web better for e-books (and ePub) denies the potential of creating a platform that transcends the book. Trying to replicate the book on the Web blinds publishers to a range of other formats, solutions, and business models.
With Cramer arguing that books can change the Web, and Bjarnason contending that the Web is changing books, they are unlikely to find common ground. But both arguments make a strong case for publishers to get more involved with the W3C.
If you believe Dave Cramer, don’t leave it to the handful of publishers who are already involved with the organization. It’s a risk to rely on a merged IDPF/W3C business group to represent the full future of book publishing on the Web.
And if you believe Baldur Bjarnason, you know you need to get your hands dirty in the hard business of Web specifications. Whatever Bjarnason says about an IDPF-W3C merger, his Web-first view of the world makes the case that publishers should join the W3C.