Magazines get behind next generation ePub standard

Since the announcement of the iPad, magazine publishers have been ePub official logoscrambling to turn their magazines digital. But there’s one problem: unlike books, which have seen a surge in digital sales,  the magazine industry has no standard format that publishers, e-reading device manufacturers and consumers can rally around.

That looks set to change as an influential magazine standards group, the IDEAlliance, has thrown its weight behind the development of the next generation ePub, the standard adopted by book publishers for ebooks.

Speaking at the Magazine Publishers of America’s Dimensional to Digital conference last week, Dianne Kennedy, vice president of Media Technologies at IDEAlliance said her organisation was working with the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) to bring rich media and magazine content to the ePub standard.

IDEAlliance is the group behind PRISM, the XML standard for magazine and journal metadata.

The book industry’s ePub standard is widely supported by device manufacturers, publishers and distributors.  Convergence with the magazine and newspaper industries would make a lot of sense for publishers, consumers and device manufacturers.

While ePub currently lacks some features that are important to magazines, its general approach based on XML and web technologies including HTML and CSS is very sound. Combined with its widespread support among device manufacturers and industry heavyweights Apple and Google, it offers a good foundation for digital magazines.

The standard will also be developed “with an eye to advertising”, says Kennedy, another key feature for magazines.

The working group hopes to have the first draft of a standard published by September 2010.

Among the 14 goals that the IDPF’s working group has identified for the next ePub specification, currently designated ePub 2.1, several are particularly important to magazines:

Need for rich media and interactivity support.

Need for enhanced article support. The fundamental atomic unit of magazines and newspapers is the article … it is desirable to support a work flow where PRISM content can be delivered as EPUB.

Need for a means to convey page-level layouts and target multiple display surface sizes in a single publication.  … This is a barrier to supporting books with more complex information designs, as well as digital magazines …

Currently there is no mechanism to identify and include advertising in publications, which is required in several markets.

For more, see this article from eMedia Vitals.