Kobo steps up

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.

2014 – a good year for illustrated ebooks

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/

 

Evolving Ebook Clauses

Ebooks have always been difficult to define.

Publishers used to claim that the ebook was just another delivery method for the author’s work, so naturally belonged implicitly under volume rights.  That didn’t last.  In 2001 Random House Inc lost a court case against Rosetta Books for trying to define them as part of volume rights.

Once it was established that ebook rights needed to be explicitly defined in the contract, definitions emerged which confined the ebook to being an electronic replica of a printed book.  They used words like ‘verbatim’, ‘in whole’, ‘unaltered’ etc in a form ‘primarily designed for reading’.

But it is very difficult to make a water-tight definition that can’t be mistaken for anything else.  On the Ebook Strategy course I teach at Book House, we always try, but ebooks are very difficult to pin down.  But although we can’t define it, we feel we instinctively know what an ebook is when we see one.

Now it looks as if ebooks are becoming even harder to pin down.  The ebook clause is evolving again.  This time the definitions aim to allow for enhanced editions, giving the publisher scope to make full use of the the features of ePub3 described in my last post.   Recent examples include the use of words such as ‘additional materials’ of various kinds to ‘enrich’ and enhance’ the reading experience.  Does the intuitive “knowing it when we see it” still apply?  If it has the full text of the book at its heart, with extra material added at the beginning or end, yes, we are happy to say it’s still basically an ebook.  But if the text itself is broken up, re-interpreted with images and audio, and perhaps even accessed non-sequentially, is it still an ebook?  Or has it become something else?  If so, what?

This is very exciting for readers, but the worry is that if the ebook is defined too broadly, it will encroach onto other rights, such as film, or app rights.   The challenge now is to hammer out new definitions that accurately describe the ebook in all its glory, without being so loose that anything goes.

Or will the divide disappear altogether, and this become another front line of convergence of media.

Ebooks have been around for just over 10 years, and in the mass market only for about 3 years.  It’s very early days for this new technology.  We are still making ebooks that look like books.  The first cars looked just like carriages.  Just as the very first car manufacturers could not imagine our sleek, fast cars of today, so we cannot imagine the ebooks of 2111.  I wish we could fast-forward, and take a look.