Thoughts on the IDPF and W3C Combination

Prior to the IDPF vote on the combination with W3C, I wrote up my thoughts on why I supported the combination to share with interested colleagues.  The members ultimately voted in favor of it, but since then there has been a fair amount of ongoing conversation in the ebook industry about the merits and potential downsides of the combination. As such, I decided to share my own prior thoughts on the topic publicly to add my own *personal* perspective to the conversation.

Now, I certainly do not claim to have superior insights into the ebook publishing and retail industry as our company is after all, a tech firm only, and I’m still somewhat new to the industry (just 10 years). But FWIW, here were my thoughts for those that are interested:
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Why it seems like a good idea:
1.  The merger enables the book industry to have more direct self-interested influence on web standards as a whole through focused participation and engagement with W3C – standards that are, and will continue to be the foundation of EPUB, and that will also drive, shape, and largely power the future of nearly all digital content, marketing, eCommerce, distribution and back office infrastructures used by the book industry.
2.  Beyond influence on the standards themselves, increased engagement with W3C and co-contributors will result in increased knowledge and expertise of digital technologies within the industry, along with building relationships between people in the book industry and people in other industries that are critical to its success (e.g. social media, retail, marketing, advertising, software, hardware, and others)
3.  Increased engagement and alignment with EPUB by the W3C will facilitate increased adoption of EPUB in other industries, which will lead to more tools, services and vendors ultimately becoming available to the industry, as well as driving down the related technology costs through economies of scale.
4.  This increased scale and adoption helps offset the power of the tech giants to leverage proprietary technology to exert control over the industry and increase their competitive advantages, a risk that will increase dramatically under the current trend of market consolidation. Stronger open standards, with broader adoption and a diverse ecosystem facilitate a more level playing field, which is critically important to the financial growth of every company trying to thrive in this age of global tech titans.
5.  It is clear that W3C will pursue specifications related to digital publishing and digital publications irrespective of the merger. As such, if separate, competing and/or overlapping standards will emerge. This will create technical fragmentation in the industry, and lead to increased costs on many fronts, including  the costs of participation and membership fees in two different organizations – an inefficient use of resources and duplication of efforts.
6.  There are important business and trade topics that can and should be addressed by the collective industry to grow the market and reduce costs. Many of these topics are out of scope of the IDPF mission, are not international in nature, or rightfully encompass both digital and print.  There are organizations such as BISG and other industry bodies that can be appropriate venues for these topics. The merger will create increased clarity around the appropriate venue for such business and trade topics and provide an opening for such organizations to step up to those plates.

What I’m afraid of if the combination does not happen:
1.  IDPF membership, participation, and funding have recently declined greatly for a variety of external reasons, and this ongoing trend creates an increasing risk that the organization will, as an seperate body, be unable to make meaningful and sufficient forward progress on behalf of the book industry moving forward.
2.  Most of the individuals and companies that are very active in IDPF working group activities appear to strongly favor the merger, and are committed to engagement with W3C whether or not the merger occurs. Thus, If the merger is rejected, there are strong risks that participation in and support of IDPF by these important active members will erode.
3.  Given these factors, there is a substantial risk that the IDPF will find that it can no longer adequately fulfill its mission in the relatively near future, and therefore the EPUB standard will either become deprecated, or taken on by a different organization, under terms that are far less helpful to the book industry than what can be obtained now.
4.  Ebook standards now and into the future require the use of modern browsers to be displayed. It is no longer technically nor financially feasible to build alternative rendering technologies, as was common practice in the past. The book industry alone, via the IDPF, simply does not have sufficient leverage and engagement with the major browser vendors and operating system makers to facilitate implementation of the features that are now, and will be in the future, critical to the marketplace success and competitiveness of ebooks against other media types.
5.  Accessibility is increasingly important in ebooks both due to emerging marketplace requirements and govt regulation. Accessibility related standards and technical considerations therefore clearly must be a core component of all ebook standards efforts from now into the future, and must be developed in tandem and in close collaboration with A11Y specifications. The W3C will be the nexus of A11Y efforts and expertise in this rapidly developing arena. IMHO the IDPF will not be able to sufficiently achieve this as a separate entity. Even if possible, it would likely result in time to market delays, giving powerful momentum to alternative W3C standards or proprietary solutions.  The nature of regulation is that it places hard deadlines on deployment of compliant technologies, often having nationwide scope. This presents very significant risks that EPUB could be supplanted completely by competing and potentially proprietary technologies that get to market faster. This risk is particularly acute due to IDPF’s extremely limited resources (a single employee) and the small number of current volunteer working group contributors.
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I myself have reservations and don’t begrudge those that have more. Just sharing my own personal perspective on why I supported the combination.
Happy Reading,
Micah

Announcing Cloudshelf Reader for iOS

We are pleased to formally announce Cloudshelf Reader, an all new ereader application from Bluefire that supports digital publications in the EPUB3 open standard that can contain video, audio, animation, interactivity, media overlays, fixed layout content, and other advanced features of the EPUB3 specification.

Cloudshelf Reader empowers learning and productivity with tools for bookmarking, highlighting, annotations and full text search as well as tools for browsing, tagging and searching bookmarks and annotations across all downloaded documents – in one place. We’ve also included a fun drawing feature for annotating publications with a stylus or finger. This feature is experimental at this point, but we see opportunities to extend and refine this feature in many exciting ways.

The app was designed from the bottom-up to leverage the accessibility features of the iOS operating system such as Voice Over. We intend to further improve the a11Y related reading features, and with this 1.0 version we have a solid foundation to build upon. For us, accessibility is the most meaningful and important aspect of the EPUB3 specification, and we are strong believers that accessibility is not just the right thing to do, it will soon be seen as mission critical for all major business and institutions worldwide.

In Cloudshelf Reader, we are leveraging the work we’ve been doing with the Readium Foundation over the last few years to build core open source technology components necessary to build browser and platform native reading system apps that support EPUB3.

For use cases that require digital rights management we chose to integrate an all-new DRM technology from Sony DADC called User Rights Management Solution (URMS). This technology makes use of the robust Marlin DRM specification. URMS provides unique flexibility in content license management including optional license transfer and on-demand revocation which we believe will enable innovative new products and services for digital publications. As such, we have decided to become a reseller of URMS.

Cloudshelf Reader is not an update to, or replacement of Bluefire Reader. It is a completely new product and we continue to offer our popular Bluefire Reader white label app service. More information about our Cloudshelf Reader products and services can be found on our website.

Please download the free Cloudshelf Reader app, give it a spin, and let us know what you think. The Dropbox feature provides a convenient way to import your DRM-free EPUB files, and of course the “Open-in” feature of iOS is handy too. We’ve put together a Cloudshelf Reader community site, and we very much value and appreciate any feedback, feature requests, or bug reports.

Cloudshelf Reader apps for Android and modern browsers are coming soon.

-Micah

Changes at Bluefire

Today we are announcing the departure of Cliff Guren, our VP of Business Development. Over the past five years I have had the pleasure of working with Cliff as we’ve successfully grown our software licensing business. During this time we’ve created white-label applications for 70 companies around the globe, and licensed Adobe Content Server to more than 90 companies worldwide. Our impact and global reach have been amazing for a company our size. Cliff has done a fabulous job for us and we hope to find opportunities to work together in the years to come.

Cliff will be focusing on re-launching his consulting business, Syntopical. He hopes to use the digital media related expertise that he has developed working at Bluefire, Hearst, Microsoft, and Apple to help publishers and other content focused businesses refine their digital media strategies, build key business relationships, and grow their revenues.

Over the coming months you will hear more from us about updates to Bluefire Reader and our white-label apps. You’ll also be hearing from us as we launch Cloudshelf, our new family of EPUB 3 reader applications and distribution services. Cloudshelf will enable businesses and institutions of all types to easily and cost-effectively deploy digital private libraries and subscription services to their constituent groups (employees, students, association members, and consumers). But that’s a story for another day… Stay tuned!

We are grateful to Cliff for his significant contributions to our success.

– Micah

2016 Kickoff: Bluefire Reader for iOS version 2.5

We’re kicking off 2016 with an update of Bluefire Reader for iOS. Version 2.5 enhances performance on devices running iOS 9 and adds support for the new Split View feature. Reading and taking notes just got a whole lot easier!
Split View

Bluefire Reader in Split View on an iPad Air 2

The update is now available in the iTunes App Store.
– Cliff

Bluefire Reader for iOS: Now optimized for iPhone 6 and 6+

We are pleased to announce Bluefire Reader for iOS, version 2.4. With this release Bluefire Reader is now fully optimized for iPhone 6 and 6+. We’ve also added support for 64-bit rendering and native iOS dictionary definitions.

Bluefire Reader on iPhone 6+

Bluefire Reader on iPhone 6+

Update today and let us know what you think!

– Cliff

A Note on Data Collection by Adobe Digital Editions 4.0

Over the past few days we’ve received a number of questions about Adobe’s collection of user data in Adobe Digital Editions 4.0 (ADE 4.0). We’re writing today to address these questions.

For those of you who have not been following the issue, it has recently been reported that ADE 4.0 collects data about user reading habits and transmits the data to Adobe’s servers in plain text. It does so without any user controls to turn off or limit the data collection. Understandably, users have expressed concerns about the privacy implications of this feature.

Following the initial disclosure about the data collection feature Adobe issued the following statement:

All information collected from the user is collected solely for purposes such as license validation and to facilitate the implementation of different licensing models by publishers. Additionally, this information is solely collected for the eBook currently being read by the user and not for any other eBook in the user’s library or read/available in any other reader. User privacy is very important to Adobe, and all data collection in Adobe Digital Editions is in line with the end user license agreement and the Adobe Privacy Policy.

We have been asked if we perform similar data collection in our free Bluefire Reader apps. The answer is No. While our apps are built on Adobe Reader Mobile SDK (RMSDK) versions 9 and 10, we are not aware of similar data collection by Adobe in these SDKs.

We do support an optional Bluefire developed sync feature that (when enabled by the user) sends anonymous, encrypted data to our servers. This data is used to sync the user’s reading location across the user’s activated reading devices. We also collect a limited amount of anonymous aggregated usage information. All of this is spelled out in our “Terms and Conditions” and “Privacy” statements.

We want you, our users, to know that we respect and value your privacy. While it is true that some technologies (like page location sync) require the transmission of user data, we believe that it is essential to implement these services in a manner that respects and protects the privacy of our users. We believe that our current apps meet this standard.

– The Bluefire Team

Bluefire Reader for iOS 8

Just a quick note to let you know that we’ve released Bluefire Reader for iOS 8. This release includes a number of compatibility fixes.

Our next release will include optimizations for the new iPhones.

Enjoy!

– Cliff

New! Bluefire Reader for Windows PCs

We are delighted to announce Bluefire Reader for Windows PCs, the newest addition to our family of Bluefire reading apps.

Our new Windows app features the clean, elegant design that we first introduced in our iOS 7 update. Dennis (our awesome designer) and Nelson (our amazing Windows developer) have crafted the best reading experience you’ll find on the Windows PC platform.

Reading View

We’ve minimized distractions so that your focus is on the text

Bluefire Reader for Windows is ready for white labeling. The app includes flexible visual branding options and support for up to two customizable embedded web views. Integrate your store and user bookshelf and your customers will have a seamless download experience that eliminates the need to manually manage .ascm files.

Sample branded app

Your branding flows throughout the app

We’ve also included support for our newly launched Page Sync and Analytics cloud services. The Sync service ensures that your customers can easily move between their branded Windows app and their branded mobile apps without losing track of their current page. Our Analytics service gives you essential insights into how your apps are being used and how your most popular titles are performing.

We’ve even developed our own application update service for Windows. The service makes it easy for white label licensees to keep their customers up to date with the latest version of their branded app.

Bluefire Reader for Windows supports PCs running Windows 7 and Windows 8. (Please visit the download page for full system requirements.)

Click here to open the Bluefire Reader for Windows download page.

We look forward to your feedback!

– Cilff

Just Released: Bluefire Reader for iOS, Version 2.1

Bluefire Reader for iOS just got even better! New in Version 2.1:

  • Dropbox integration – Download books stored in your Dropbox account without leaving Bluefire Reader! Just tap “Library” in the top nav bar and choose “Dropbox” from from the menu. Login to your Dropbox account and browse all of your available EPUB, PDF, and ACSM files. Tap to download the files you want to add to your library on your device.

New: Dropbox integration

  • Integration of the Open Dyslexic font set, created to help readers with Dyslexia.
  • Updated themes, including support for sepia mode for PDF files.
  • Integration of RMSDK 10 and the latest OpenSSL library code.

We hope you like it! Please remember to update your reviews. We appreciate your support.

– Cliff