Following my “bold prediction” that 2014 will be the breakthrough year for illustrated books, I am gratified to see ereaders beginning to step up to the challenge. It’s only when all the ebook retailers can sell the same interactive, multimedia ebook format that the illustrated book market will really be able to take off. This article in Talking New Media, about Kobo suggests that Kobo are starting to adjust to the agreed standards for ePub3 hammered out by the AAP last year. Kobo have revised their ereader app for iPhones, so it can read ebooks with audio clips in, and video clips, as part of the text. I am hopeful that this is in response to the ePub3 white paper, which sets out how device manufacturers (is an app a device?) can take advantage of the new standards, and enable publishers to produce one ebook for all markets.
After Frankfurt 2013 I boldly made the prediction that 2014 would be a year of opportunity for illustrated books, like never before. This year, they will finally get their chance to shine, and find a way to market.
EPub 3 can make a lovely illustrated book with multi-media, interactivity etc etc, but finding a place to sell the resulting glossy beautiful ebook is much harder. Apple iBookstore can sell them, and people can get the full experience on their iPads, but beyond that, the market is sketchy, and the formats are incompatible.
That means that to sell the same book on say, a Kindle Fire, you have to re-do the whole thing, because the format that works for Apple doesn’t work for Kindle, and neither of them work for other kinds of tablet. There is one standard in theory, but it’s customised by each retailer for their own device. To sell the book for many devices means producing the ebook in many formats. The problem is, that’s too expensive and complicated to produce – and for most books, the sales don’t justify that level of investment.
Currently, publishers of illustrated books are left with two choices – steer clear, or dumb down to the lowest common denominator – an uninspiring flat, fixed format that may or may not fit on the reader’s screen – Not Good.
The Association of American Publishers decided to do something about this. They spent 2013 getting device manufacturers, retailers and publishers to talk to each other, and agree on a set of features from ePub3 that they could commit to support.
The promise is that new devices and software coming out will all display the same set of features. This means that if a publisher produces a book which makes use of those features, they can be sure that the same ePub3 ebook file will work on all the tablets from all the retailers. They only need to do one file, and it will be suitable for many markets. This is revolutionary! Thank you AAP for getting it together.
You can see the ePub3 standards in the Implementation Paper published by the AAP just after Frankfurt: http://publishers.org/press/117/
I saw this article on Book Brunch today: The Ebook Transfer Headache. In it Nicholas Clee bewails the fact that although he has multiple ebook readers on multiple devices, he can’t swap books from one to the other – his Kobo books won’t work on his Kindle (needless to say) and the Waterstones books that he’s put on his Kobo reader won’t appear in the Kobo app on his new tablet; and he can’t move his Kobo books into another ereader …
The DRM is tying his purchases to the device or app of the retailer he got them from, even though the formats are supposedly compatible, and he’s within his allowed number of copies. It’s all so frustrating.
But I wonder whether the solution would be, in a way, worse. The only way that we could all have access to everything we’ve bought on any device would be for the whole lot to be stored in some sort of cloud. At the moment each retailer, be it Kobo, Kindle or iBooks, has their own cloud, so we can see our stuff on their apps; but a different company’s app is not linked to that cloud, so it doesn’t have access to that stuff.
The alternative would be that instead of giving us access to our books in a personalised area of their cloud, instead our purchases from all retailers are put into our own cloud. That means that all our stuff would be visible to any of our devices accessing our cloud.
The only way I could have my own cloud would be to rent space from a cloud storage company. That way all my stuff would be there all the time. It would be like Dropbox, or Google Docs.
But this throws up two questions:
- Would the retailers – Kobo, Amazon et al – relinquish the files to my cloud in this way? Probably not because of all the valuable usage data they can collect from me, as I dip in and out of my purchases, reading my ebooks in their cloud.
- Who would I trust to store my stuff in their cloud? I hate having all my eggs in someone else’s basket. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like Google, or Dropbox or anyone having access to all my digital belongings. For me there’s a massive privacy issue there – not that I’ve got anything to hide – I just want some privacy.
A partial solution for Mr Clee might be removing some of the DRM from the ebooks. That would make it easier for him to transfer them from one reader to another, but it wouldn’t make them transfer by themselves. He’d still have to side-load from his computer, or swap memory cards to and fro as he is already, but once they were transferred, they would work.
This all shows that at the moment the ebooks we buy are still very much tied to the retailer we buy them from. It’s more than an interoperability issue, and I think it is going to be a long time before retailers sacrifice the valuable market intelligence this gives them in favour of more convenience for their customers.
I’ve just started reading Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band which is the UK’s first ebook with its own sound track, published by Booktrack a couple of weeks ago. This Telegraph article promises driving rain, thunderclaps and blood-curdling screams, so I’m not sure how I’m going to read it on the train, or in bed, which is where I do most of my reading! Better get my head phones out.
Here’s a little clip of the ebook in action: