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Will Ebooks Ever Circulate Freely in Europe?

23 March 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

In her introduction to the study On the Interoperability of Ebook Formats, Neelie Kroes, EU Digital Economy VP Commissioner, wrote: “Interoperability is a major requirement to build a truly digital society. This applies to ebooks too.”

Unfortunately, many publishers did not take the hint, convinced as they are that it is not the authorities’ business to regulate interoperability and standards. In the same study, Kroes went on to say: “When you buy a printed book it’s yours to take where you like. It should be the same with an ebook. You can now open a document on different computers, so why not an ebook on different platforms and in different apps? One should be able to read one’s ebook anywhere, anytime on any device.”

. . . .

Still, the resistance of private companies could hold up the creation of a single European digital market, despite the existence of common guidelines of interoperability and goals established by thePillar II of the European Digital Agenda. “The internet is a great example of interoperability—numerous devices and applications working together anywhere in the world. Europe must ensure that new IT devices, applications, data repositories and services interact seamlessly anywhere—just like the internet. The Digital Agenda identifies improved standard-setting procedures and increased interoperability as the keys to success.”

The Publishers Association released a document a year ago called Publishing and the Single Digital Market in which we can read that the publishing industry has supposedly reached an adequate degree of maturity to face the interoperability challenge. Oddly enough, this document barely mentions the urge to enforce those basic interoperability requirements that are fundamental for the creation of this single market.

Point 8 states: “The development of cross-border availability of content services in the Single Market could be further encouraged by the European Commission by ensuring there is healthy competition within the distribution supply chain and that interoperability between devices and platforms is supported.” But are we sure that this obligation applies to regulating authorities rather than to publishers and content developers?

. . . .

The German government recently announced that, at least within its frontiers, it will no longer be possible for multinational operators to implement their strategies of integration and vertical consumption based on formats, platforms and proprietary devices. Measures like these will be even stronger in the field of education and in the development of educational content and resources.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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Ebooks, Non-US

12 Comments to “Will Ebooks Ever Circulate Freely in Europe?”

  1. Someone should tell them that the expression is “Cutting off your own nose to spite your face” not “Cutting off your nose to keep Amazon from making any $.”

  2. For a place that claims open borders, they are awfully closed to the digital revolution.

  3. I just finished a history of the Hanseatic League. The Hansa rose up in the 14th century to encompass 50 cities and turned the Baltic Sea into a German lake. They imposed trade monopolies on Russia, Livonia, Finland (kind of), Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England. The world changed around them, but the Hansa did not change its policies or practices to suit the new conditions. This failure as much as the 30-years War led to the collapse of the Hansa. By 1655, the Hansa numbered only 3 cities — Bremen, Hamburg, and Lübeck (the sogenannte Queen of the Hansa). These three survived as free cities until the time of Bismark.

    Don’t Germans read their own history? Or do they think that this time the outcome will be different?

    • Actually, the Hanse predated the German national state by some centuries, so it was by no means “German”. In fact, it was a union of cities that happened to be located in many different kingdoms and countries, with several different languages. Yes, they used their clout to dominate trade for a while, but in many cases they actually enabled long distance trade.

      Having said that, I do see this kind of legislation as aimed directly against Amazon. And it’s most likely due to the influence of publishers – on the other hand, I also think this might end just like that law Germany (and other states) passed to force Google to pay publishers. It was a fiasco and in the end, nothing changed.

      Amazon will probably be able to argue that since their apps work on any electronic device (with the exception of the Tolino), .mobi is not hindering interoperability.

  4. The thing that’s preventing e-book portability is DRM and the publishers instance on locking things down, not e-book formats.

    Calibre can trivially convert books from one format to another, and if it’s not completely lossless, it’s pretty darn close. I’m sure that there are other tools out there that can do the same thing (but why look for them when Calibre is free, both in cost and in source availability 🙂

    The other thing that hurts is the limited access to the bookstores. I don’t know how to solve the problem as long as DRM is involved, but if there wasn’t DRM, I would be pushing to have the regulators force the large bookstores (especially the ones that sell their own e-reader) to implement and document APIs that would let other companies produce software and e-readers that can interact with the stores.

    There would still be the network effect from the e-reader defaulting to one store, but it would be a crack in the walled gardens, and I would not be surprised to see it tear down the walls over a few years (the way that AOL/Prodigy/etc used to be ‘online’ until people started insisting on accessing the Internet through those services and they ended up fading in importance)

    If you don’t have e-readers and software that’s locked to only a specific store, it matters far less if some books are exclusive to one store or another.

  5. Reality Observer

    My former life was as a software developer. Having been the victim (yes, I say that with all seriousness) of industry “standards,” and having developed more than a few “in-house” standards – the problem with every last one of them is that they always end up as the least common denominator. Once the standard is set, too, they tend to remove any motivation to innovate, to provide new capabilities.

    It is also a heck of a lot easier to write text that can be converted to any format than to write code that can be compiled by any developer. Just counted Baen’s available formats – seven of them. Providing that many is actually a rather trivial and inexpensive exercise – it’s getting the “source” files that is expensive (paying authors and their own staff).

    • They still support rocket format.
      Going on 20 years, that one.
      Sony lrf too, which even Sony gave up on.

      Doesn’t seem to be much of a burden. But then, since they don’t do DRM they don’t pay a DRM tax to Adobe or anybody else.

  6. I think tablets allow just what the author wants. Any tablet can access any vendor who chooses to publish an app.

    And DRM? Activists care. Consumers don’t. Just click the right icon on the tablet, and everything works.

    So, consumers have a choice. They can buy a dedicated eReader that limits their use. Or they can buy a tablet that let’s them access everything.

    The market has already delivered a solution.

    And that’s the problem. Very smart people cannot accept the market delivers without their wise guidance. Nor can they accept that people can choose without that guidance.

    • No “guidance”, no power.

      All I have to say about Kroes’ “guidance” can be boiled down to: WINDOWS N.

    • > So, consumers have a choice. They can buy a dedicated eReader that limits their use. Or they can buy a tablet that let’s them access everything.

      so please explain to the people in the UK who have Nook books how they are not impacted by B&N shuttering the store and making the app no longer work.

  7. It’s pretty typical of the EU to focus on something that isn’t so important (interoperability) and completely ignore something absolutely crucial (the dumb decision to classify e-books as a service rather than a product which forces member states to apply the higher trate of VAT, and then suing them if they don’t comply). Compounding the completely braindead and self-inflicted VAT situation is the asinine and 100% contrived decision to levy VAT based on the country of the purchaser rather than the seller – a decision which was supposed to nudge large companies onto a more level playing field but instead creative such an administrative nightmare for small companies that many (such as authors selling e-books direct) exited the market altogether.

    I’m surprised they don’t get on better with publishers!

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