PRESENTATION: The End of Ebooks

July 15th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Abstract: Amazon have dominated the ebook market since the launch of the Kindle in 2007 but the next decade may be defined by the merger of the Independent Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in January 2017. The merger resulted in the formation of the W3C Publishing Working Group with the remit to maintain the EPUB standard while working to future-proof digital publications as “first-class entities on the Web” in the form of Packaged Web Publications (PWP). The proposed PWP specification would mark a paradigm shift for the book trade with ebooks gaining all the features of the modern Web rather than the more conservative EPUB specification.

The PWP specification is yet to be finalized but during its development, Working Group participants have extensively debated the limits of the book and its digital representation. The new standard must satisfy a broad range of use cases including trade publishing, scholarly communication, journalism, and grey literature. In this presentation, I conduct an analysis of the consensuses and fractures that will shape the presentation of books in browsers from a Science and Technology Studies perspective. The W3C offer an unprecedented level of transparency in decision making compared to prior ebook standards such as EPUB revealing the human decisions behind algorithmic interventions by mark-up validators, InDesign export wizards, and web browsers. These on-going discussions will not only shape the future of digital publishing, but return to the question of “what is a book?” in the context of the early twenty-first century.