The Publication Standards Project

 

Get Informed

Curious what all of this means for you? We’re going to keep updating this page as the digital publishing landscape shifts over time. There’s a lot to learn, with many different issues and perspectives. If you think we’re missing anything, there’s a good chance we’d benefit from knowing about it, so feel free to

For press folks, we have a one-sheet and press kit available.

 

ePub & PDF

ePub and PDF are the two biggest open standards for digital publishing. PDF was originally developed by Adobe as a closed standard, but it was opened to all in 2008. ePub became an official standard in 2007.

Generally, PDF is laid out using page layout software like Adobe InDesign, whereas ePub is marked up using XHTML, CSS, and XML, and bundled as a Zip archive, which was released to the public domain in 1989.

We advocate using ePub whenever possible, as publishers and as readers. All of the standards in ePub are firmly established. Plain text has proven to be the most durable format for archival purposes. ePub is developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (or IDPF), with almost every major player in the publishing industry established as paid members. It’s generally easier to produce an ePub document first, and then integrate it into page layout software for physical books or a PDF, than it is to work the other way around.

ePub is natively readable on many platforms including iBooks, the Sony Reader, and the Barnes & Noble Nook. In order to be read on a Kindle, ePub files need to be converted with software like KindleGen or Calibre. We want ePub to be natively readable and fully supported on all reading platforms.

DRM & Closed Platforms

Virtually all ebooks are sold with Digital Rights Management (DRM), meaning that they’re encrypted such that only one kind of e-reader (and usually only one customer) can read the material. DRM is enforced largely because the largest publishers believe it’s necessary to discourage piracy.

We oppose DRM on all published writing, and we call for an immediate end to the practice. Not only does it make digital books harder to own, and not only does it pose chilling consequences for the long-term storage and archiving of digital media, but research suggests it can encourage piracy: the very thing it was built to stop.

Read more about DRM's problems here.

Publishing Tools

Digital publishing is held back by pervasive print metaphors. One of the great things about ePub is its semantic markup: headers, images, paragraphs, and layout are denoted with specific tags that tell e-readers how to present everything correctly. Right now, no tools exist to gracefully export semantic markup from any page layout software like InDesign, Pages, or Quark; but there do exist rudimentary tools to convert a semantic ePub file to page layout software.

Digital publishing needs standards-compliant tools, just as it needs standards-complaint e-readers. Right now the process of creating ePub is too cumbersome, and when ePub is exported from page layout software, it results in poor markup that does not fully express the content, making it harder to read in the long run. We can do better.

The Big Six

Most books are published through six companies, informally referred to as the "Big Six": Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Meanwhile, almost all ebooks are sold through three outlets: Amazon.com, Apple’s iBookstore, and Barnes & Noble. Despite some independent bookstores flourishing, they have virtually no control over the digital publishing landscape. Power is continuing to be consolidated in the hands of a few established players.

Right now, the United States government has sued five of the Big Six (minus Random House) and Apple for colluding to fix prices in the iBookstore, claiming the "agency model" (where publishers set the price) is keeping ebook prices unfairly high. (This is in contrast to the "wholesale model," where ebooks are sold for a fixed price. Amazon is in favor of the wholesale model.)

Three of the publishers have settled out of court; the others have not. If the case ends up favoring the government, then Amazon will likely drop their prices well below the publishers’ comfort levels.

This has important ramifications for the kinds of books that are produced: arbitrarily low prices make it likely that more ambitious work won’t see any sort of digital release. We believe publishers should be able to set ebook prices and bookstores should be able to set their own terms of use. Ideally, ebooks would cost less than the equivalent print edition and print editions would provide a digital download for free. There’s no good reason why people should have to pay twice for the same content.

Archiving

Digital books are being produced without respect to future generations. Presently, libraries are one casualty of problematic ebook lending policies, with inconsistent enforcement from publisher to publisher and platform to platform. Only one of the Big Six, Random House, licenses their ebooks to libraries at all – and in March 2012, they tripled their library pricing. And in the future, DRM-wrapped books in walled gardens, increasingly restrictive copyright laws, and a lack of standard in library archival, will prevent us from archiving our work for future generations to enjoy.

Abolishing DRM is only a part of the solution. We want electronic publishers to donate DRM-free work to libraries for the public to borrow and enjoy, and we’d like major libraries to retain copies of digital works, just as they do analog works.