The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) was formed 16 years ago (as the Open eBook Forum) to “promote the development of a thriving ePublishing market.” Today we have a thriving, multi-faceted ebook market with robust sales to consumers, broad adoption by libraries around the world, and growing use in all stages of education.
The future of the ebook market, however, is in jeopardy, and the threat is coming from within the very organization that was created to promote the industry: the IDPF itself. It pains me to write these words—as OverDrive (my company), Microsoft, and other forward thinking technology companies and publishers founded the organization—but I am not alone in my belief that the current leadership of the IDPF has lost sight of its mission and core principles.
The IDPF has announced its intent to merge with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The merger (also being referred to as a “membership exchange”) will eliminate the IDPF as a standalone organization. A vote by the membership of the IDPF on the proposed merger is underway. Many of you may be thinking “So what?” and “Why should I care?”
The W3C (led by Tim Berners-Lee) is the overseer of the Web. The W3C’s mission is to “lead the Web to its full potential.” I have tremendous respect for the leadership of the W3C and their accomplishments. The mission of the IDPF is to promote publishing, not to promote the Web. The IDPF has always been open—“open” was in our name (the Open eBook Forum) at the inception of the organization. The IDPF has always aggressively embraced new technologies and standards that further our mission at a pace that keeps up with the developing industry and marketplace, expanding opportunities for publishers and improving the reading experience. The IDPF is, at heart, not a standards organization, but an advocacy group focused on promoting the unique experience of reading books on digital devices. Let’s not lose our focus on e-publishing, ebooks, and the ebook industry.
Serious concerns about the impact of the merger have been raised by members of the IDPF and others in the ebook community, including what will become of the EPUB specification. Companies that have built their businesses on EPUB are owed clear answers on the W3C’s commitment to the specification and their plans for future development of the standard. We don’t want to return to the days before EPUB, when publishers were required to produce and distribute ebooks in multiple formats for delivery to ebook channels.
Another concern is that the merger may result in a lack of representation of the very community the IDPF was created to serve. Note that the IDPF currently charges non-profit members annual dues of $775, and for-profit members $775 to $5,750. The W3C charges non-profit members annual dues of $7,900, and for-profit members $7,900 to $77,000, an increase of nearly 1000 percent.
The IDPF lists more than 300 companies and non-profit organizations on its membership page. Many of these are small companies and non-profits that will likely not be able to afford the W3C dues. They, and any new startups or interested companies, will lose their ability to participate in the standards development process.
(Note that under the proposed merger, the W3C will offer current IDPF members a two-year discount membership in the W3C, but their dues rise to the standard annual rates after that time.)
I, and many others in our industry, believe that the IDPF has not been transparent about its motivations for the proposed merger and the impact of the merger. The IDPF has stated that the merger is driven by financial need, but they have not been clear about how and why the funding shortfall occurred and what other options, including potential mergers with other industry organizations, were explored.
The proposed merger is not a decision that should be taken lightly. The loss of an independent IDPF will weaken the EPUB standard and introduce new risks for businesses that create, sell and distribute ebooks. Former and prospective IDPF members would have no influence or ability to help shape and drive the future of EPUB at the W3C. Who will advocate for the ebook developers, ebook-focused businesses, publishers, libraries, schools and readers?
I, and other concerned members of the ebook community, are calling for the IDPF to stop the vote on the merger that’s currently underway. We are asking the IDPF to share requested information on the proposed merger, to engage the ebook community in an open dialogue, and to explore other alternatives (if a standalone IDPF is not viable).
We’ve come a long, long way over the past 16 years, but there’s still work to be done. We need a strong independent industry organization that’s focused on sustaining and enhancing the entire ebook ecosystem—developers, authors, publishers, distributors, retailers and service providers.
If you share our concerns, please click on this link and sign our petition. Let’s stop the vote that’s underway, get the information we need to make an informed decision, and take the time we need to make the right decision for our industry.
You can learn more about the proposed merger at http://www.futureofebooks.info/
Author: Steve Potash