If you want to read an e-Book and you remember the early days of the Web, you’re probably having a bad flashback. Reading devices like the Kindle, Nook, and iPad all have separate bookstores and book formats, and their makers (and other companies) are trying to create readers ‘locked in’ to their device and bookstores. With the Web, the same things were tried. Microsoft wanted people to use Microsoft DOC files as Web pages instead of HTML. Apple wanted people to pay to use eWorld instead of the Web, for free. AOL merged with Time Warner so that the combined companies could “extract more value from our content than the Internet will allow.”
Eventually, these business tactics always fail, but it doesn’t seem to stop people from trying them. What really works, over and over again, is giving the user more freedom, ownership and choice, not less. The Web, based on simpler, publicly-available standards and software, beat all the best attempts by many slick and well-financed companies to produce a more attractive closed experience.
And so it is with e-Books. Amazon’s Mobi format is not nearly as good as ePub, but it is a closed format that Amazon owns and locks users to Amazon for their books forever. ePub is an open standard, but the makers of reading devices that use it (Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony) make it egregiously, unnecessarily difficult to transfer books, read purchased books on other devices, or buy books from a competing bookstore. Books should be simple and accessible, a safe place to store good ideas for the future and a durable way to have a personal library. eBooks right now are the opposite of that. There is simply no good reason for this, and it’s terrible for the future of the book.
That is why, with some sadness, it’s our opinion that specialized ebook formats should be dumped (yes, even ePub). It’s fine to use them during this, the dark ages of e-Books, but if you want to preserve your ideas for the future, none of these formats have the prospect of being around to be read on future readers. What is a good bet, however, is HTML5. We believe it is a completely safe bet to make books with HTML (after all, humble HTML is at the heart of Mobi and ePub anyway). HTML5 plays video, can store itself for offline reading, has all the abilities to be packaged up, sold, loaned, excerpted, gifted, saved, and can be read by billions of devices now. Doesn’t that sound more like a book? In fact, all that’s missing to allow authors and creators the freedom to make and offer books on their own terms is a few tools (already on the way).
The Web became a vast, freely available tide that lifted all boats, free from the clutches of any one company and a marketplace of ideas open to all. It can do the same for e-Books.