Publishers Weekly has a perceptive new article on the future of ebooks, A Soft Landing on Normandy

“Almost every single startup that is delivering authoring tools — either for designing and producing content, maintaining a full-bore content management system, or simply supporting an interim level of annotations or fragmentation — is building their own proprietary web-based layer that is largely HTML5-based yet also capable of linking to software development kits and libraries needed to support the export of rich app experiences. In other words, everything is baroque, and nothing in the standards space works well enough across the range of possible uses to be a default rendering environment. It is very much as if we are back in the Middle Ages scribbling on parchment, whittling our own quills from feathers we have on hand, drawing up whatever ink we have available. Our 21st Century parchment is a world-wide digital canvas, but our quills are hand-crafted.”

That can potentially make sense for presenting high quality specialist non-fiction/textbooks with complex layouts, which I’d suggest is where these startups may be going with these tools. If they can create a system easy enough for small and mid-sized publishers to use, but which can produce faithful / easy-to-update / app-friendly expensive non-fiction in iPad editions, then they stand a chance of a buyout by a major publisher — who might then polish and sell the system to smaller publishers, along with a rights lock-in.

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