The following presentation was given at IDPF Digital Book 2012.
I recommend viewing the original HTML5 presentation (requires a recent WebKit browser, and was optimized for the 1024×768 projector). The source code can be downloaded and used according to the terms of the accompanying license.
Audio of the original talk is kindly made available by the IDPF.
Streaming digital books
If you start counting from the introduction of the Kindle in late 2007, the modern retail ebook ecosystem is approaching five years old. There’s a lot we’ve gotten right: EPUB 2 is an established universal distribution format, and ebooks are accessible to markets and customers who had previously had limited access to books due to geography or disability.
Yet some of the most well-attended sessions at ebook events are about tweaking ebook markup, or managing the scale of producing a half-dozen near-identical ebook files for distribution into the supply chain. As support for EPUB 3 matures, the problem of producing ebook files that meet the individual requirements of the retailers will get far worse due to the expanding matrix of capabilities.
In this talk I present some suggestions on moving away from the file-based model, which I believe is overly dependent on a mental association with print distribution. Publishers should not have to produce hardcoded final-format files that meet the specific limitation of each retailer. Instead, I propose a system in which retailers are shipping ebook “manuscripts”, containing high-resolution or even raw assets, transcoded on demand based on the end-user’s device capability, connectivity, or even individualized preferences like language or reading skill.