Study Finds No Technical Reasons for Closed E-Book Ecosystems

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At its annual conference held last Thursday, May 16, in Brussels, the European & International Booksellers Federation released a study commissioned from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, which found no technical or functional obstacles to an open e-book ecosystem. Rather, the study’s authors, Professors Christoph Bläsi and Franz Rothlauf, said it was a matter of willingness on the part of major industry stakeholders.

“There is no technical or functional reason not to use and establish EPUB 3 as an/the interoperable (open) e-book format standard,” Bläsi and Rothlauf said, adding that the non-availability of reader applications able to display all EPUB 3 features would soon be fixed by an initiative that is developing an open source reference system and rendering engine for EPUB 3.

“Given the will to do so on the side of Amazon and Apple, the DRM barrier between the ecosystems could be partly overcome by simple changes to the respective store and reader applications, and partly only by more demanding agreements between different players on interoperable DRM solutions,” they added. “The latter is only necessary if copyright holders continue insisting on having their intellectual property protected by highly restrictive measures.”

Noting that interoperability between formats and platforms “is a real problem for booksellers in their daily contacts with their customers,” John McNamee, president of the European Branch, EBF, said, “I am very pleased that this study provides clear scientific evidence that interoperability is achievable. It also shows that there are alternatives to DRM’s and that content portability is feasible. Booksellers are keen to promote business models which make digital content easily accessible to the customers they are in touch with on a daily basis in their terrestrial or e-bookshops, the European readers.”

The Bookseller reported that EIBF members urged the European Commission to step in to create a level-playing field for retailers on e-books. McNamee told the EC that “there is an urgency to come up with a solution which creates an open platform … even though the market base [for e-books] is low at present,” and Fabian Paagman of the Booksellers Association of the Netherlands encouraged the EC not to wait too long. “There is far more demand from readers to buy new e-books from local and national bookstores, to read and consume them they way they want to,” The Bookseller reported.

The full E-Book Interoperability Study is available on the European Booksellers Federation’s website.