On May 16, 2013 John Mc Namee, European and International Booksellers Federation President presented On the Interoperability of eBook Formats in Brussels.

He asked the question: Why do we need interoperable eBook formats? and provided some excellent reasons supporting the idea of a common standard for eBooks that can help both publishers and consumers while protecting the interests of both.

Non-interoperable ebook formats cause problems for consumers

eBook ReadersMc Namee discussed the fact that proprietary eBook formats can lock consumers into a specific platform or eBook ecosystem. Consumer choice and the use of their purchased eBooks are limited when a vendor requires that their digital content be read on a specific device or using specific software.

This goes on to affect future purchasing freedom for consumers by making it inconvenient to shop around and purchase eBooks from multiple sellers based on price or other factors.

Non-interoperable ebook formats are in contradiction to EU policies

[Pillar II (interoperability and standards) of the Digital Agenda of the European Commission says:

“[It is important to establish] effective interoperability between IT products and services to build a truly digital society. Europe must ensure that new IT devices, applications, data repositories and services interact seamlessly anywhere — just like the Internet.

and Neelie Kroes, the Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of the Digital Agenda, expanded the idea:

“Interoperability […] applies to ebooks too. When you buy a printed book it’s yours to take where you like. It should be the same with an ebook. You can now open a document on different computers, so why not an ebook on different platforms and in different apps? One should be able to read one’s ebook anywhere, any time on any device.

He supports the use of EPUB3 as a workable solution for reaching a truly inter-operable world for eBook consumers.

The major updates to the EPUB format in EPUB3 are as follows:

  • Accessibility features including enhanced semantic tagging and text-to-speech
  • Additional styling and layout capabilities for reflowable content so content reads well regardless of the platform or screen size used by the consumer
  • Annotation and bookmarking support
  • Enhanced metadata and navigation support including HTML5 based tables of contents
  • Fixed-layout support that is critical for complex eBooks including textbooks and instruction guides
  • Global language support including vertical writing and right-to-left reading.
  • Interactivity support for things like quizzes and crossword puzzles.
  • Mandatory embedded font support so the needed font files are stored in the document
  • Mathematic equation formatting capabilities
  • Rich media support (audio and video)

As to the question of whether or not features of Amazon and Apple formats can exist in EPUB3, John Mc Namee says this is not a real problem as EPUB3 does everything they do, and more:

His examples of enhanced EPUB3 features include:

  • A configurable text-to-speech functionality (for the reading-aloud with a synthetic voice) is supported by EPUB3; none of the other formats supports this at the moment.
  • The synchronization of pre-recorded audio and text highlighting is supported by EPUB3 and Apple´s Fixed-Layout EPUB, but not by KF8 and .ibooks.
  • EPUB3 offers full flexibility regarding character sets (UTF-8) and reading directions, where KF8 only supports a few Asian languages and Apple´s formats do not support languages beyond those with Latin characters.

has released this report on the importance and challenges involved in the move towards interoperable in eBooks.

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