April 7, 2010 Last Updated 3:56 pm

ePub Working Group points to platform limitations in wake of iPad launch; recognizes need for rich media options

The impact of Apple’s iPad on the book publishing industry is already becoming apparent.  The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), the trade and standards organization that is dedicated to the development and promotion of electronic publishing, issued a statement that identifies 13 areas where the ePub format is deficient.

The IDPF  has completed a minor revision of its ePub 2.0 standard. In the meantime, the ePub 2.1 Working Group has identified 13 problem areas that the electronic publishing format needs to address. These include support for rich media and interactivity, global language support, enhanced article and navigation support, a means to render page-level layouts and multiple display sizes, as well as the lack of annotation support. In short, it recognizes the severe limitations of the platform in an environment where publishers are looking to bring more multimedia elements to their text-only products.
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The Apple iBooks app uses the ePub format, though this limits rich media and interactivity options.

In early March, Penguin Group CEO John Makinson revealed that his company was looking at creating individual apps for the iPad because the ePub format was insufficient.

“We will be embedding and streaming audio, video and gaming in to everything we do. This will present us, and the platform owners with technology challenges,” Makinson said in a speech in London.

“The ePub format, which is the standard for ebooks at the present, is designed to support traditional narrative text, but not this cool stuff that we’re now talking about. So for the time being, at least, we’ll be creating a lot of our digital content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than as ebooks.”

I have speculated in the past that publishers may decide to use both approaches — ePub and apps. A book publisher could decide to offer a book in a text-only version perfect for selling through the iBooks iTunes store, selling it a standard price; then offer an enhanced version as a separate app, with a premium price tag applied.

The IDPF may be trying to head this off by making sure the ePub standard accommodates the kinds of interactivity people like Makinson envision.

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