Hachette Books to Eliminate Crapola in Digital Publishing

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If, as an author, writer, ghostwriter, or publisher, you follow electronic publishing industry news and trends, you’re seeing a flurry of news items this week saying that Hachette book publishers has decided to publish all of their titles in electronic format, specifically epub3 format. Don;t think for a moment that the big news in this release is that Hachette is going to publish books electronically. They have and they will — books like The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown — part of a Hachette group) and Elton John’s newest offering.

The articles online read like this:

By March 2013, all eBooks published by Hachette will be ePUB. Hachette Digital announced its commitment to ePUB today reporting that Hachette Book Group is releasing 16 titles in ePUB3 from November through March.

Yes, it’s really cool that important authors and their new books are available digitally, but it isn’t the top news — Hachette has long been a proponent of electronic books. The striking thing about this Hachette announcement is that they are committing to publishing ALL of their novels by ALL of their authors in a single particular electronic format. That format is epub3, and epub3 is what Hachette is excited about. Here’s what Hachette says

“HBG’s goal is to get our authors’ works out to consumers as broadly as possible, with the most engaging experience for readers regardless of device or platform, along with high quality aesthetics and entertainment,” explained Ken Michaels, Hachette Book Group’s president/COO, in a statement. “To do this in a world of rapid technological change, the industry needs standards like EPUB3 that enable a wider range of publishing creativity in handling complex layouts, rich media and interactivity capabilities. This EPUB3 release is an exciting step forward…and will greatly benefit our readers as the industry fully recognizes the potential and fully adopts this important standard.”

Hachette will release some potent stuff in epub3 format like Po Bronson’s Nurtureshock; Elton John’s Love is the Cure William Poundstone’s Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?; Jackie Warner’s This Is Why You’re Fat (And How to Get Thin Forever) and The DASH Diet Action Plan; Rocco DeSpirito’s Now Eat This! 100 Quick Calorie Cuts at Home; and Making Babies by Sami David MD and Jill Blakeway. that means that no matter what you read electronic books on — your tablet, laptop, phone, Kindle, Nook or what have you,  and no matter where you choose to purchase them, you can access these books.

Here’s more about why they’re jumping on epub3, in Hachette’s own words.

Hachette Digital is committed to the EPUB3 format, which allows greater flexibility in representing enhanced content, including interactive covers, embedded multimedia and interactivity, pop-up screens for end-notes, and melded audio and text, as well as improved navigation of reference content, creating a high-quality digital reading experience. EPUB3 opens new doors for illustrated titles ¬ for young and adult readers alike ¬ in digital form, and HBG will offer Todd Parr’s Otto Goes to Camp and James Patterson¹s young adult novel Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life as well as classic cookbooks such as The Flavor Bible and Vegan Cooking for Carnivores. EPUB3 will enable HBG to give readers a far richer reading experience.

Defining EPUB3

What is epub3?  Read a solid definition at IDPF International Digital Publishing Forum. But know this, even if you don’t delve into the details right now: Right now, ebook readers are at the mercy of several cobbled together formats for displaying digital content. Alignment is iffy, images pretty much suck, and typographic continuity is non existent. In short, digital reading in the present day is an adventure, not an esthetic delight. And if the person, entity, or program formatting the content is not up to par on the rules for each individual format, the result is junk.

Hachett’s point, which should be important to you, is that digital publishers like Smashwords, Amazon, Pressbooks, and others, could and should consider working toward a formatting standard that is consistent, easy to use, robust, and dynamic so that ebooks and electronic publications all look good and all find their ways to their audiences, no matter what gadgets the reading public decide to buy or use. Would you want to have to decide which traditional library to use or which brick and mortar store would have what you need based solely on the way the type was set on the paper? Of course not. But we accept such nonsense in digital books because we have no choice and there are no standards.

I love the idea of standard formatting and I applaud Hachette. This is excellent news for authors, writers, publishers, and all others stakeholders in the world of digital publishing. It’s interesting to note that, maybe because of their forward thinking and their understanding of current trends, digital sales are rising at Hachetet.

Leave a comment on our OnText blog, please, and tell us your take on eliminating the vast myriad of formats for e publications. Talk it up!

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3 Responses to “Hachette Books to Eliminate Crapola in Digital Publishing”

  1. Unless Amazon and Kindle, which dominate the e-book market, adopt EPUB3, this is not much of a step forward. The history of standards in high-tech is littered with attempts at universal solutions only to have proprietary practices become the de facto standards.

  2. I agree with Larry. I bemoan the lack of a standard, but I also have two objections. Anyone remember the VHS/Betamax controversy? Betamax was the better technical choice, but VHS, the inferior choice, won. I don’t know much about epub3 v. mobi or even v. epub, but I’m fairly certain that Hachette shouldn’t be the one deciding. Like others in the Big Six (Five? Four?), they’ve jumped on board the ebook bandwagon late, kicking and squirming.
    My other objection is related: epub, epub3, mobi, and so forth are software standards. Isn’t there an international organization that can decide the standard? Standard C++, for example, is a well defined standard. If such an organization doesn’t exist, it should. Otherwise, we’ll have chaos until we end up with something many people won’t like.

  3. I hear you, Steven. It’s a complex and frustrating question and reminds me of the early days of html tagging. Thanks for your input.