(Ars Technica) -- The industry-wide struggle over e-book formats continues, despite the fact that publishers are inundated with choices over how and where to distribute their e-books.
In fact, such a wide selection is part of the reason why publishers are up in arms over the lack of a good universal option: they don't want to have to choose between Amazon, Apple, and Barnes and Noble; nor do they want to spend the extra time and resources trying to do all three. They want to choose one format and have it be available everywhere, but the industry may be standing in its own way before a widely accepted universal format becomes available.
There are already several open e-book formats out there -- ePub and MobiPocket are just a couple. The major e-book devices even support them; with a little bit of effort, you can get an ePub version of a book onto your Kindle or iPad in no time. The problem is the "effort" part -- e-book sellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple heavily market their own stores and make it even easier for customers to simply buy the proprietary formats.
The downside, of course, is that customers are then locked into specific formats and devices. As noted in a recent Reuters piece, a Kindle book may be readable on a Kindle app on the iPad, but it's still limited to the Kindle "universe" -- other devices that lack Kindle apps won't be able to handle those formats, and vice versa.
"Our fondest wish is that all the devices become agnostic so that there isn't proprietary formats and you can read wherever you want to read," Penguin Group CEO David Shanks told Reuters. "First we have to get a standard that everybody embraces."
Getting their collective act together
Some believe the industry itself needs to get its act together before pointing fingers at Amazon or Apple. "Indeed, there are several open formats, but the problem is that they still need work," self-published author Cesar Torres told Ars. Torres believes that if publishers worked together to get behind a particular open format, the format would improve and device makers would be more motivated to offer wider support.
"The problem still lies with publishing houses and their inability to talk to one another. Everyone is doing their own thing without any regard for readers or customers," Torres said. "Apple and Amazon would be toast if publishers really got their act together."
There's another element that's holding back publishers from unifying on a more widely compatible, open format. The old guard of publishers is at odds with the more progressive ones over how to handle e-books, adding to strife within the industry. Brooklyn-based writer Edward Champion expressed frustration after attending this year's BookExpo CEO panel, noting that moderator Jonathan Galassi "maintained the old warhorse position that hardcovers would still be desired by 100 percent of book purchasers," and that Authors Guild president Scott Turow seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that customers want e-books the same day hardcover versions are released.
Both Champion and Torres seem to agree certain publishers are simply scared of the dangers of the online world. "Most publishers don't want e-books at all," Torres said. They want to keep paper around as long as possible (sound familiar?) and, in lieu of that, they insist on heavy DRM on their e-books as they are dragged kicking and screaming into the digital world.
That stance is clear when you read Penguin Group president Susan Peters Kennedy's comments to Reuters. She staunchly noted that publishers aren't keen on making the same "mistakes" as the music industry and falling into a battle over piracy. "It's always treated as if the publishers are the Luddites. The devices have not caught up with the content. Contrary to popular opinion, the book is actually so far more flexible," Kennedy said.
With that kind of attitude, it's no surprise that users are increasingly "pirating" e-books that they already own in paper format. Traditional books are indeed more flexible, but that's because of the industry's own disagreement on how to handle e-books. What's worse: a PDF of a book floating around on BitTorrent because there are no other legal ways to acquire a digital copy, or an ePub version of the same book available for purchase on the major bookstores' and publishers' websites? Some cooperation from publishers could go a long way, but they apparently don't yet realize that.
COPYRIGHT 2011 ARSTECHNICA.COM