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Strategic analysis
Fixing the Ebook Industry: The HTML5 Reader

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Written by on July 30, 2013

How can book publishers get out of the gridlock they find themselves in with Amazon and Apple?

Much of it of course, is self imposed. Back in the early days of ebooks they created EPUB, the ebook format that tries to mimic print as much as possible. What's strange about it is that it's actually just a watered down version of HTML, which I wrote much more about in 'Lies, Damned Lies, and Ebooks'.

I agree that back in the old days, web browsers had too many quirks and too many interruptions to function as an ereader. But today we have HTML5, CSS3, offline storage, super fancy connection options, and touch interactions. That's not just on our laptop and desktop computer either, but also on every one of our mobile devices.

Add to that, newer mobile browsers have windowless browsing modes pretty much as standard, which means that as you start to scroll down the page, the URL bar and icons disappears, leaving you with a page free of any interruptions.

But many publishers still insist that HTML5 can't be used for ebooks, despite the fact that EPUB is just XHTML and CSS2 (older versions of HTML), with far fewer features.

Even the latest version (which is still not fully implemented, says things like this:

EPUB 3 inherits support for the HTML5 audio and video elements.

Really? Don't they realize how long we have been able to do that on the web... and how much else we can do as well?

The book publishing industry is just getting to the point where they can add static videos in a time where the rest of us are doing far more amazing things.

Here is a website that explores the importing and exporting of arms across the globe. Look how rich the visuals are:

Or what about the interactive Disney story 'Find Your Way to Oz':

And the amazing story of our universe from Google called "100,000 stars":

All of these work in a browser, but the book publishing world has just invented static video elements.

EPUB is the most idiotic format ever created. It's built upon the concept of the web, but without all the features that make it amazing. And then it is structured into a print concept that severely limits what you can do with it.

The biggest problem of all is that it's a file that people have to download. Having a separate file means you have to open it in some kind of dedicated reader, but since no publishers can do that on their own, they have to rely on others, like Amazon to do that for them.

And, on top of that they add DRM, even though it has been proven over and over again that it does nothing but prevent you from innovating (and possibly even encourages more privacy because everyone is annoyed by it). It forces them to hand over their future to the ereader platforms, like Amazon, Apple (and Google).

Mathew Ingram wrote a good article called "The real villain in the ebooks case isn't Apple or Amazon - it's publishers' addiction to DRM", in which he wrote:

Instead of seeing the ebook market as one that could grow their market in different directions, or offer different opportunities for revenue generation, most publishers saw it instead as a threat to their existing business, and did whatever they could to protect themselves from that threat. That's where the impulse for DRM locks came from, and they have been paying the price ever since.

There are only so many ways you can shoot yourself in your foot, but it appears that book publishers are intent on finding all of them.

Changing an industry that has never changed, and has never sold a product

The publishing industry is not unlike most other industries. It has been around for a very long time, and during that time, the product they made has remained static.

We see this, when we look at Random House's website. I don't want to sound negative towards them, but they serve as a great example of the friction that we see in the publishing industry, and how that distorts their focus and makes them irrelevant to their customers.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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