On January 18, during a lunch session at Digital Book World in New York City, the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) convened an open meeting to update interested parties on the progress of the merger of the two groups. The proposed merger caused some controversy, with some stakeholders expressing concern that the ePub standard, which was then managed by IDPF, would get subsumed into the more general Web standards development that W3C oversees—and thereby sidelined in favor of those other standards. There was also concern that, because W3C standards (and individual contributions to those standards) are openly licensed and royalty free, this policy would extend to contributions to the ePub standard going forward.
Despite these concerns, the merger was easily approved by IDPF members. By giving ePub a home alongside other standards such as HTML and CSS, the opportunity to extend ePub’s capabilities in an increasingly Web-enabled world will prevent the unnecessary creation of silos and competition with other W3C standards. Additionally, W3C has vast resources and a much larger platform upon which to advocate for ePub adoption and improvement.
The merger seemed inevitable following the formation of W3C’s Digital Publishing Interest Group several years ago, to respond to a need for changes in Web standards such as CSS and HTML to handle a variety of publishing concepts. In my view, it makes sense for ePub to join those standards as a Web standard for portable publications. The developers who participate in W3C meetings bring a depth of experience with creating and maintaining technological standards and formats, an enterprise that tends to get marginalized within any given book publishing house. The cross pollination of so many different perspectives solving “bookish” problems should lead to exciting developments in e-book reading experiences.
Recently, I spoke with Jeff Jaffe, the CEO of W3C, about the merger, with two fundamental questions in mind: Now that the merger has been finalized, what’s next? And why are Web developers interested in books?
In terms of postmerger events, Jaffe referred to a discussion hosted by the Book Industry Study Group on February 14 in New York City that brought book supply chain stakeholders such as Hachette, Firebrand Technologies, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House into direct discussion with W3C directors. One big takeaway from the gathering was BISG’s position as a facilitator. BISG and W3C appear quite committed to continued collaboration and communication with each other so that they can respond to the needs of the publishing industry.
But if these standards are to work, it’s incumbent upon the publishing community to be at the table. In previous public discussions, there’s been concern about ePub getting “lost” among a plethora of other Web standards. That won’t happen if enough book publishing stakeholders are represented in W3C. Just as it was critical for publishers to join IDPF to develop the ePub standard, it is equally critical that they join W3C to maintain it.
Brian O’Leary, executive director of BISG, noted that, with the merger done, members of the publishing community are starting to raise questions about how they fit into the combined organization. O’Leary thinks that, because BISG represents the interests of the publishing supply chain in the U.S., it can be helpful in creating an ongoing forum for getting these questions answered.
For Jaffe, making IDPF members feel welcomed, “not only from a technical point of view but a community point of view,” is a priority for W3C. He noted that former IDPF executive director Bill McCoy has joined the W3C team. “A lot of his responsibility is to make sure that we are attentive to the publishing community as they come over to W3C,” Jaffe said.
Jaffe is sure that the involvement of the book publishing community in developing Web standards will provide publishers with more opportunities to create new products for the Web. “Reading is a fundamental human activity,” he says. “But the way we read and consume information will change.”
Jaffe pointed out that, when the Web was created nearly 30 years ago, it was a publication mechanism, and although it was different from existing publishing models it provided instant global distribution, allowing anyone to become an author, but without the typography and curation that exists in traditional publishing. Now, with standards like CSS, there are tools that allow publishers to publish content in artisanal ways. Technologies are converging, and the W3C sees opportunities in that convergence for how content will be presented.