At a press conference held at DigiCon 2016, the annual conference of the International Digital Publishing Forum at BEA, the IDPF and The World Wide Web Consortium announced plans to explore the possibility of combining into one organization. Although administrators from both organizations announced their “mutual interest in combining their respective organizations to more quickly advance publishing technologies,” at least two members of the IDPF expressed some concerns about the proposed merger.
The proposal will be put in front of the IDPF membership to be discussed at a general meeting of the membership on Wednesday.
The W3C, founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, develops open source nonproprietary standards and guidelines for the web. The IDPF does much the same for digital publishing, including developing the EPUB standard. As the web has developed as a publishing channel, the organizations have worked collaboratively to create open standards that can support publishing of all kinds.
The press conference included Berners-Lee, W3C executive director and founder; Jeff Jaffe, W3C CEO; George Kerscher, president of the IDPF board; and Bill McCoy, executive director of IDPF. McCoy said that the two organizations are “in discussions about combining into one organization that will make EPUB and the web better for publishing.” He emphasized that the merger “is not a done deal.”
McCoy also noted that if both organizations decided to go forward, the W3C would “absorb” the IDPF, which would cease to exist as an organization, although its publishing members would become a division or group within W3C. Jaffe described it as a “business group, a publishing activity group, of like-minded businesses” that would work within the W3C organizational structure.
Berners-Lee and Jaffe described the benefits of the proposed merger, among them “accelerate the convergence” of the web and publishing technologies; a change in the nature of authoring, curation and reading itself; and an acceleration of “portable web documents” that can be read offline as well as online.
But OverDrive CEO Steve Potash, founder of the Open E-book forum, the predecessor to IDPF, was skeptical of the merger and was critical of the process for informing IDPF membership of the consequences of the merger. Indeed, even Kerscher expressed some concern over the merger, specifically citing the speed that IDPF brings its standards online, as opposed to the W3C process, which he said was “time consuming,” though “more comprehensive.”
Potash suggested the status quo might be better: for IDPF to remain independent and to handoff its book-focused ideas to W3C to implement. Indeed, Potash was concerned that books might be overlooked or pushed aside under the new arrangements.
Potash said that while everyone embraces the vision of new forms of publishing, he is reluctant to support a deal that would see IDPF give away all of its IP and invest it in another organization that will own that product.
Berners-Lee agreed that new standards needed to be “fair and fast, but still good,” and the W3C would work to speed up while not compromising quality. But he was matter of fact in responding to Potash’s concerns and suggestions that they should of maintain the status quo: “We’re not interested in hand-offs and status quo. We want to keep a collaborative spirit. As a community the IDPF can meet and they can say yes, or they can say no, to the merger.” Jaffe was quick to add, “Well, they can yes, or they can say no, or they can offer some other ideas.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2016 PW BEA Show Daily.