Except that he pretty much doesn’t know anyone that’s been there. The world of ebooks doesn’t really have a past to him – he doesn’t know the details of the evolution of the EPUB or EPUB3 formats, and it frankly doesn’t really matter to him. Never heard of the OEBF or OEBS, I’m sure – or about the IP travails and angst of figuring out how to secure book content in the pre-web internet era. Even more recently, as he begins to think through all the cool ways he can manifest his new sci fi novel, and how to split the narrative, run off individualized PoD print copies, deal with iterative story-telling, and foster reader engagement – there’s not much industry history nagging at him. “The Mongoliad? Oh, yea, kinda remember hearing about that.”
That’s when the tugging at my brain started. This awesome smart person, who I am privileged to collaborate with and who has a great intuitive sense of what’s possible on the web – has a knowledge of ebook history that stretches back to maybe, like, 2012. And all that went before – all the stuff that the publishing industry struggles with, their whole workflow and distribution and editing and curation and pricing algorithms and promotions and marketing and even the transmedia experiments of the last decade – it’s all simply wisps and vapor to him. And really, that’s just fine.
That’s the realization: this person is not unique. There are hundreds and hundreds of bright people like him across the world, more every day, men and women in North America, Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, all encountering the concept of “writing books” on the web for the first time. They’re authors and programmers, they have access to the network, and they’re reaching for programming tools: for Angular, Backbone, and Knockout; for Python, PostgresSQL, ElasticSearch and CouchDB; for CoffeeScript. Oh, yea, maybe EPUB3. And they have no historical understanding of the publishing industry at all.
I don’t know what the future of EPUB3 looks like. It’s certainly a sophisticated packaging option for a wide variety of books, supporting interaction on the web, and capable of incorporating support for additional features. Those are all huge pluses, for an ebook standard. It is assuredly a wonderful means of packaging content and moving it through B2B channels – even content that might theoretically be non-compliant, as long as it is unwrapped into content parsable on the web.
Yet EPUB it is not the web, and programmers across the world who don’t know about the history of ebook standards, or about publishing, are going to use the tools they know about and have at hand, to write their stories. Those stories are going to be web native, and they’ll be cool and neat, and for the next few years at least they will lean heavily on the evolving HTML5 and CSS standards and all the rest that comes with that.
And that’s the thing – because “all the rest that comes with that” is the rest of the stuff that comes with the web. And that – that is going to be awesome. It is going to be touch, and gesture, and ultimately it may involve direct cognition. And it is wide open to every programmer on the planet. See you there.