Save the IDPF. Save EPUB.

The IDPF/W3C merger is a change for the worse that must be stopped

Welcome to The Future of eBooks

This site is the home of the publishing community initiative focused on lobbying the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) to suspend its planned merger with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

January 25, 2017 Update: Defending the Right to Lose Yourself in a Book

The transfer of the IDPF EPUB specification to the W3C jeopardizes the future of books and reading.

Those of us who oppose the International Digital Publishing Forum’s (IDPF) plan to dissolve and “merge” with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have already written at length about the many ways in which the deal fails to protect the interests of the publishing industry. Those risks to our industry should be enough to stop the merger, but the deal also fails to protect the interests of readers. The W3C is focused on promoting the Web, but eBooks are not websites. When the IDPF is gone, who will advocate for readers?

OverDrive and many other organizations and individuals—indeed, an entire industry—trusted the IDPF to act as the steward of an investment in reading and literacy centered around books. eBooks are an extension of physical books. Today, eBooks are being used to help teach children the joys of reading through interactive and Read-Along titles with characters they know and love. eBooks help readers with failing eyesight and synchronized audio for improved accessibility. These scenarios take advantage of EPUB—a book-centric standard developed by book publishers and publishing experts.

Books have the power to move us and change the way we think. The experience of getting lost in a book (“immersive reading”) can shape our lives and is very different from the experience of consuming information on websites. Books are not websites.

Now the IDPF intends to transfer the future of reading in the digital age to an organization focused on the promotion of websites and e-commerce, where reading will be an afterthought and subservient to varied commercial interests, if it is valued at all.

But books are not websites. Reading should not be a stepping stone to collecting a reader’s credit card information. At its peak, the IDPF enjoyed the active participation of authors, librarians, publishers and educators who fostered and promoted eBooks and immersive reading in the digital age, a goal derived from the fundamental premise that books are inherently important, even sacred. Now, with this “merger,” the IDPF has abandoned that mission.

If completed, the transfer of the EPUB specification to the W3C will put the future of books at risk. The members of the W3C who are focused on digital signage, advertising, credit card processing, integration with auto manufactures and over 50 other non-book related interests, will be controlling the future of books.

Instead, authors, editors, agents, publishers, librarians, teachers, and readers should be directing and controlling the future of books—book people—not the representatives of other industries for whom the experience of getting lost in a book amounts to a lost opportunity for a digital purchase or click-through.

What now?

The transfer of the IDPF’s assets to the W3C has been approved by the members of the IDPF. If the industry believes that the IDPF and W3C are truly committed to safeguarding the future of books, and that a “merger” with the W3C is truly the best path forward, the IDPF and W3C should be willing to agree to the following:

  1. Affordable dues for all book publishing stakeholders. A W3C membership policy that permits all interested parties to join all current and future EPUB-related Working Groups at current IDPF dues levels indefinitely (and not only for a two-year transitional period). These groups should be open to anyone under the same dues structure and governance that the IDPF has been operating under.
  2. Real and ongoing authority for publishing stakeholders. An open and democratic governance process for all EPUB and digital publishing-related Working Groups and committees that is not subject to the sole approval or sole veto by the W3C chairman in a closed and secretive process.
  3. Strong leadership to champion books and reading. An open process for recruiting a Publishing Executive or EPUB/Book Industry Champion for the industry efforts within the W3C. We need to permit the best candidates to apply and be hired as the champion for the book and related publishing interests.
  4. Specific timetables and commitments for maintaining and updating the EPUB specification. The current agreement only specifies what the W3C’s obligations are if they fail to update the spec, but doesn’t commit the W3C to doing anything specific over the next two years.

I continue to believe that the transfer of the IDPF’s assets and intellectual property to the W3C is a mistake. The W3C is focused on promoting the Web—not the experience of getting lost in a book. Those who advocate for this deal are missing the essential issue: books are not websites.

Steve Potash, Founder and CEO
OverDrive, Inc.