The Reading World

Gathering knowledge: Esoteric e-book formatting thought problems apropos of something

Last week’s announcement that the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) has opened its ePub maintenance process is tremendously important to the future of books and publishing, regardless of whether you believe books, the artifact made with ink and paper, or publishing, the process of assembling, producing and distributing books for a profit, have bright futures or are destined for the trash heap. Everyone concerned about books and e-books should be paying close attention to the evolution of ePub, because it represents the current best effort at an open standard for the display of text and other information across a variety of e-reader devices.

I’ve spent the past few days studying the existing ePub components to prepare some suggestions for the IDPF. ePub is made up of three components, the Open Publication Structure 2.0, Open Packaging Format 2.0, and Open Container Format 1.0, and is deeply related to related metadata and publishing standards initiatives such as the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set 1.1 and DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) Consortium standards. The result is a series of postings to follow which will offer thought problems that explore the nature of thought, reading, authoring, references, citation and conversation.

Making books useful and accessible to all, including the visual and hearing disabled, is a complex technical undertaking. The ePub and related standards efforts are predicated on the existence of texts which must be delivered to readers, which is precisely the problem one would address if distribution were still the key challenge. Unfortunately, distribution is the easy part of publishing today. In the networked world, ideas arrive in bits and pieces instead of whole units between the covers of a book or in an article from the newspaper. Words are quoted or paraphrased and the enterprising reader can explore the sources to discover what credit to give the fragments of knowledge they find assembled by writers, bloggers, news aggregators and in short messages. Therefore, citable information and the ability to assess ideas in relation to events and previous expressed ideas—in short, whether a newly published adds to or merely repeats previously expressed ideas—are the new hallmarks of value.

In the print era, when moving books, magazines and newspapers around in a timely fashion created value, the reader couldn’t participate, unless

Author & Publisher Strategies

Over at Tools of Change: Scrib’d winning at feedback

Andrew Savikas of O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing has a very interesting post about the feedback he’s getting from, including email every time a copy of one of his books is sold. This kind of give-and-take allows a very high degree of engagement by the publisher or self-publisher with their audience, something that most booksellers do not think of, let alone build into their sites.

To some degree, bookseller sites need to approach the level of interaction between publishers and bookbuyers that people are increasingly used to in sites like Facebook or Twitter. Reading, however, is deeply associated with privacy, for psychological and political reasons. Auto-subscribing a customer to an author may be too presumptuous but it may be perfectly acceptable for an author or publisher to be auto-subscribed to a reader’s feed, if the reader chooses to disclose it. Then, of course, the challenge is how to use all that information and connectivity to do something meaningful.

Savikas mentions the Digital Sales Report Format, an XML standard for delivering book sales information and David Marlin of MetaComet, who contributed to the standard chimes in to say that it will be the focus on more adoption in coming years. It’s a solid foundation for transparency in bookkeeping, though not a social engagement platform in any sense.

Ultimately, that engagement will take place through the book. It requires more than shared annotations, since some notes and reading need to be kept to the reader, but still be shareable in appropriate situations. Privacy, not total transparency, contributes to thoughtful reading.