Publishers Want Open Ebooks, Won’t Cooperate to Get Them

I linked to the remarks by Penguin CEO David Shanks earlier but didn’t comment as I was trying to catch up on a glut of stories over the long weekend. Jacqui Cheung at Ars Technica has a thoughtful follow up explaining the problems with publishers saying they want open formats for electronic books but doing very little to bring them about.

Cheung talked with a couple of authors who gave more nuance to the issues holding back forward momentum on an open standard. Cesar Torres describes a problem, lack of consensus leading to stalled progress, common to all sorts of open technology standards. Hold outs use the remaining warts in a standard as an excuse to abstain forming a self reinforcing barrier to getting either a common standard or even a subset of the features they individually are after.

Edward Champion paints a picture that sounds like what every distributor of size has gone through in the wake of digital technology. Self interest in preserving stable markets almost always outweighs investment in the future goods in which customers are most interested. As a lover of both hard cover editions and ebooks, I stand as an example of his point about a desire in the market to be able to purchase both on the same day.

I love that O’Reilly already offers bundles like this and appears to be thriving, not thrashing. I’d much more willingly pay the exorbitant price for a hardcover edition of the latest fiction title on my wish list if it came bundled with an ePub edition as part of the deal. Right now, paper and electronic books complement each other well in my experience. I would accept either a smaller number of publishers simply experimenting to improve availability or all publishers tinkering with a small number of their titles. Even if they could not settle on a single format, maybe competing two or three against each other, I suspect the publishers would be surprised by the positive response to a truly open and portable option.

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