Friday, June 3, 2005

OeBF Repositioned as International Digital Publishing Forum

The annual meeting of the organization now known as the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), formerly known as the Open eBook Forum (OeBF) was held on June 2, in conjunction with the major book trade show, Book Expo America, in New York City. Discussion and review of the annual report focused on the reasons for the name change, a rather clumsy moniker, but descriptive of the revised scope of the organization. As I listened virtually to the meeting from the West Coast, I was struck by the continuing need for standards, a demanding area, to move the book industry forward into the digital era. Publisher after publisher reiterated that substantial growth in digital formats can't occur without standards to reduce their production costs and ongoing maintenance in tracking multiple formats, let alone adding new formats. As chair, Steve Potash, OverDrive, a pioneer in digital distribution, actively recruited attendees for working groups to extend the earlier work of the OeBF.

Indeed, technology has indeed muddled the divisions between traditional media. Traditionally, audio, multimedia and video forms of content required separate hardware, delivered on different physical media, and were marketed by different publishers, even though the titles might be the same. However, as new devices, or perhaps we should call them gadgets, have proliferated with new capabilities, delivering digital content is increasingly handled in completely digital form, without conversion into tangible media to be sold at retail. Who would have thought that portable PC's would play DVD's, audio music and narrations on CD's and screen readable books? Or that an Apple iPod or any number of portable audio devices would play both audio books as well as favorite music? Or that subject databases would mingle content from different book publishers?

The rate of change has been difficult for a very traditional industry trying to adapt to the impact of technological changes. The early days of ebooks were back in 2000, when the Open eBook Forum(OeBF) was created to meet the need for developing production standards to produce electronic books primarily for the consumer market, a successful joint effort by members. Fast forward to 2005, and the needs have evolved. "Book" content has expanded to compiled databases, distance learning materials, lendable library materials, multimedia works, as well as downloadable books and traditional audio materials. New marketing channels have evolved, and with digital delivery, international distribution has become a increasing reality. Yet the business and rights management issues remain the same, and as well as the challenges of reaching new markets, yet building on the strengths of established markets. Moving forward, the less than glamorous work on standards by IDPF is an essential step, and my assessment is that this organization is fully capable of laying that foundation.
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