Those who have watched Game of Thrones have followed the alliance between war lords and the free folk against the mortal danger of white walkers. The EDRLab story is more or less the same … but with no blood.
Maybe 75% of the digital publishing US market is currently ruled by Amazon, with a proprietary ebook format and a large catalogue only accessible from specific reading systems: a pure vendor “lock-in” model. Four other major online retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo and GooglePlay) comprise nearly the entirety of the remaining US ebook market.
This is spreading in Europe, UK being the most impacted so far, and many EU professionals are thinking that “winter is coming”. But free folk have worked on alternatives for a long time and together they aim at creating the EPUB 3 kingdom.
In short, EPUB (for electronic publication) defines a means for packaging multimedia content for distribution in a single file format, and EPUB 3 is the third iteration of the format.
An EPUB 3 publication is created on Web technologies:
- HTML5 for structuring text, handling images, audio and video;
- CSS3 for rendering HTML properly;
- XML for structuring data;
- MathML for encoding math formulas as XML;
- SVG for encoding images as XML;
- Plus raster images and videos in standard formats.
Today, EPUB is used as a format of choice for ebooks, digital magazines, digital comics, textbooks which includes rich layout, rich media and interactivity features and has extensive accessibility support built-in. It is expected that one day, EPUB will replace PDF for the publication of ANY modern digital publication, be it educational or marketing.
Free folk: W3C, IDPF and Readium
Therefore, an EPUB 3 publication is basically packaged Web content. The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) made these open standards for use on the Web, and the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum)- a non-profit organization created in 1999 with more than 300 members worldwide – has reused these tools to create EPUB 3 as an open industry-driven standard format for digital publications.
These projects evolved, the Readium Foundation was created, and today Readium is both a software development kit for native mobile applications (iOS, Android) and a simple eReader embeddable in a Web page.
Readium projects are open-source, meaning that everybody is welcome to propose code, raise issues, propose bug corrections, use the code. To keep some fair equality of treatment between the different people using Readium, those who provide code get it for free, and those who don’t but make a commercial use of it must pay a fee. This is called a dual license.
EDRLab, spin-off of IDPF and Readium
In 2014, it was clear that members from IDPF and Readium Foundation were from different continents, but there was still a problematic lack of visibility of both EPUB and Readium outside of the US.
It was then decided to spread the word in Europe, with two goals:
- Promote the use of the EPUB format and Readium technologies across Europe;
- Accelerate the development of high-performance and free reading software across all devices;
- Dedicate resources to Readium open source developments.
Avoiding the pitfall of a “sovereign” structure, a new organization called EDRLab (for European Digital Reading Lab) would be the European headquarter of both the IDPF and Readium, offering an immediate visibility and access to a substantial community of expert developers.
Unity is strength
The French publishing industry took the lead, and decided to unite together and promote a creation in France. This became a reality in July 2015: the city of Paris was chosen among several European cities to host the laboratory; Cap Digital, the French business cluster for digital content and services, offered to host the structure.
Many fairies bent over the cradle, including the most influential publishers in France (Hachette, Editis, Madrigall, Media Participations), the Syndicat national de l’édition, the Cercle de la Librairie, the Centre National du Livre and the French state.
EDRLab has 37 members today, including most of the French publishing industry and some interesting European companies: Deutsche Telekom – creator of the successful Tolino German ebook ecosystem, Sony DADC – maker of a new commercial ebook DRM – and Bokbasen – the main e-distributor in Norway.
The important fact is that the competing founding members of EDRLab had the wisdom to create a spirit of technological cooperation around pragmatic but ambitious common goals: favouring a freedom of choice for the creation, distribution and consumption of ebooks and other digital content, making sure that publications are perfectly accessible for print disabled, fostering open innovation in Europe.
Our current keywords are:
An important mission of EDRLab is to foster the use of EPUB in Europe.
EDRLab can already be credited for an important event: the EPUB Summit 2016 was quickly prepared and was hosted in the Mollat bookstore, in Bordeaux. 130 people belonging to the European publishing industry and the Web industry debated there during two days in April, and appeared delighted with the experience. So much that next year, we’ll repeat the experience in a European city yet to be chosen.
EDRLab is also willing to work on innovative projects, like the LabBook-21 European project, centred around the evolution of educational principles (“teacher as a coach”); this H2020 project has been recently submitted in partnership with other European organizations like the Dutch national research institute CWI and the Dutch public service broadcaster NTR, and it would allow for new experimentations for the EPUB for Education profile, used as a distribution medium of multimedia publications and student interactions.
Digital rights management is a controversial subject in the free folk arena, but it is clearly mandatory to implement business models like public library loans. Although the Readium SDK is agnostic to the digital rights management system that may protect the EPUB 3 content, several Readium members decided to create a non-profit DRM ecosystem that would allow the Readium SDK to become a real alternative to the Adobe SDK and its Adobe DRM on the digital publishing market.
Among the EDRLab projects currently in progress, this Readium LCP (Licensed Content Protection) DRM project is undoubtedly the most important in terms of workload and potential market impact. The launch of this technology is expected at the end of 2016; technical developments are underway, contractual questions and legal matters are being handled, workshops are regularly organized to ensure the success of Readium LCP in Europe.
There are great mobile apps based on Readium (e.g. from Bluefire (US), and Mantano (Fr)). And there is now an open-source mobile app created by the NYPL, called Library Simplified, which will soon be enhanced with a support for the Readium LCP DRM, with the help of EDRLab.
But there is currently no e-reader desktop (Windows/Mac) application based on Readium. On MacOS, iBooks is associated with the Apple ebook store. On PCs, there is mostly a choice between an old Adobe application (ADE) and an e-book management open-source application (Calibre).
EDRLab is therefore currently working on an e-reader desktop application (open-sourced as usual), which will be usable on MacOS, Windows and Linux, and will implement the Readium LCP DRM.
This product will also have accessibility in mind. Accessibility means, for instance, being able to hear a voice (natural or synthetic) synchronized with text highlighted on the screen (media overlays), being able to move from chapter to chapter with simple keystrokes (or voice). Accessible apps will not only be useful for blind people; think about the self-driving car you’ll use is a few years? Will you 100% concentrate on reading a print book, or will you rather listen to an ebook whilst keeping an eye on the road?
Collaborative standards provide the oil that removes friction, they shape a future where interoperability, reliability, adaptability and freedom of choice offer a fair response to rogue monopolies.
The European Digital Single Market Strategy plan (published in May 2015) wants “to boost Industry competitiveness through interoperability and standardization”: EDRLab, a lightweight standardisation and open-source development team, is proud to be part of this effort.