The proposed merger of the International Digital Publishing Forum with the W3C, the web standards organization founded by Tim Berners-Lee, remains a contentious issue. OverDrive CEO Steve Potash challenged the proposal during the IDPF conference at BEA in Chicago this spring, and has renewed efforts to block or delay the proposal at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Potash believes a merger with the W3C will leave the book publishing industry with little influence over the continued development of ePUB, the widely supported e-book file standard developed by the IDPF.
Indeed, he is challenging the proposed merger just as the IDPF board has placed the proposal before IDPF members for a vote. IDPF has about 130 members eligible to vote (which means members who have paid all dues). IDPF executive director Bill McCoy said the board has recommended that the proposal be approved, and members can vote until November 4. The results will be released on November 7.
In response to Potash’s concerns, McCoy cautioned that a vote in favor of the merger doesn’t mean the process has ended. Approval only allows the board to begin negotiating the details of the merger, which McCoy said could still be rejected.
“Member approval would not imply that the combination is definitely happening, as definitive agreements would need to be developed and approved by IDPF Board as well as W3C,” McCoy said.
Nevertheless, in an interview from Frankfurt, Potash called for a “slow down or postponement of the merger,” and said he was meeting with IDPF members at Frankfurt to organize an effort to “forestall the proposed merger.”
Potash said he was “disappointed” in the “rush to vote” on the proposal, and he claimed that process around vetting the proposal “lacked transparency.” Potash has also posted an online petition calling for a halt to the vote on the W3C/IDPF merger proposal.
“The IDPF brought the book community together around the idea of digital books and digital reading. But this merger puts that community at peril,” Potash told PW. He has also been meeting with IDPF members and other digital publishing professionals in Frankfurt about the issue.
Potash's concerns are essentially the same ones he voiced in May during the IDPF conference at BEA in Chicago. During that press conference, Potash, who founded the Open E-Book Forum, the predecessor to the IDPF, was pointedly skeptical of the benefits of the merger, and questioned the process for informing members. He suggested that members did not understand the scope of the proposal—the IDPF will disappear and its intellectual property, specifically the ePUB standard, will become property of the W3C.
McCoy told PW he doesn’t believe the proposal has been rushed to a vote. He emphasized that the merger proposal was first presented to IDPF members in April 2016..
According to McCoy, the issues surrounding the merger were presented before an open meeting of IDPF membership during BEA in Chicago; at webinars held at W3C conventions overseas, and board members went to Japan to discuss the merger face to face with Japanese digital and manga publisher/members.
“We think six months of this process is enough,” McCoy said. “If the members vote yes, it still doesn’t mean we’ll merge. We have to go over the details of the transaction to make sure it makes sense to proceed.”