I don’t feel so bad about being left behind down in our part of the world when the Brits are just celebrating the launch of their first dedicated ebook reader available through retail channels. In this case, it’s the iliad iRex, the same one adopted by Dymocks Downunder, and it’s being launched through Borders UK.
To commemorate this event, The Bookseller UK published a very good article summing up the state of play with ebooks. The overriding theme was just how fragmented the market already is. In some ways, it’s good that so much of the early battles have been played out in the US domestic market which is the only market in the world at this stage that has a real ebook market (yes, I know that digitisation is more advanced in some education and technical markets).
While it’s useful to refer to the “VHS vs BetaMax” battle to explain what’s going on – a battle of incompatible formats with the consumer caught in the middle – this 1980s analogy seems quaintly simple in comparison with what’s happening in ebooks. There are not just two, there are already a dozen or so competing formats. Toss in the effects that DRM (Digital Rights Management) has on compatibility, and the fact that hardware manufacturers all support different combinations of formats, and you truly do have a mess to deal with.
The bright spot here is the recently-published open ePub format. As an XML-based open standard with wide industry support (at least at the lip-service level), it should give publishers confidence to start converting their p-books to ebooks using this format. It’s not yet widely adopted by dedicated ebook reading devices but, as a minimum, should serve as a good intermediary platform for later conversion to other formats if needed – and they almost certainly will be needed.
And, while the book world has been following its track to digitisation through the ebook route, let’s not forget that there’s a whole other world out there, including magazines. I was pleased to see there is representation for Zinio in New Zealand now. The Zinio digital publishing platform comes out of the magazine world and has some great features that will also suit some ebook applications. It will shortly be available on Apple’s iPhone and it has several years of development behind it already. It’s certainly one that I’ll be watching.
If you’re still baffled by all this stuff, don’t forget to check out my ebook primer article. If you can stay awake through it, you’ll come through the other end as a better person.