To Merge or Not to Merge

Strap in, folks—this is about to get a bit nerdy. But if you’re here, you probably like to get nerdy about books, so why not broaden that to ebooks?

Let me tell you a story of an impactful and highly controversial vote that took place in early November 2016. I am talking, of course, of IDPF’s decision to merge with W3C. Oh, you didn’t hear about that one? I’ll elaborate.

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) is a global standards organization that promotes and develops electronic publishing. Wondering who maintains common standards such as EPUB? (Okay, maybe you weren’t, but I was!) Wanting to discuss issues and new technologies associated with electronic publishing? (And really, aren’t we all?) IDPF does all that and more.

In the latter part of 2016, IDPF developed a plan to end its solo existence and merge with W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium. Also an international standards organization, W3C has a mandate that extends beyond publishing to web standards in general. As such, W3C has significantly more resources than IDPF. A merger would allow the book publishing industry to be a part of the development of the Open Web Platform and other technologies that will undoubtedly play major roles in the future of publishing. Access to W3C’s expertise around areas such as accessibility, privacy, and security could be invaluable for EPUB. In addition, EPUB is based off W3C standards such as HTML5, CSS, XML, and more; merging will help EPUB coordinate with these building blocks from within.

As rosy as this all sounds, I believe I mentioned something about controversy earlier? This proposed merger has that in spades. Though 88 percent of eligible IDPF members voted in favor of the merger during a voting period open from mid-October to early November, critics such as Steven Potash, the CEO of OverDrive, feel that the dissolution of IDPF will lessen the publishing industry’s influence over the EPUB standard. He characterized the vote as rushed and has created a website to lobby IDPF to suspend the planned merger and expand on concerns with the proposed change.

So where are we now? At the moment, we’re waiting. After the vote to go ahead with the merger, the two organizations began talks and now appear to be nearing an agreement. Leaders from W3C have given details about plans to integrate the publishing industry via tiered memberships and dues. Board members from IDPF are arguing against Potash’s challenges and trying to allay concerns about potential harm to the EPUB standard.

It’s a wild time to be in digital publishing, folks. The future is uncertain, and depending on who you ask, things are either looking up or verging on apocalyptic. Good thing we have this issue to debate as we consider our priorities as an industry! January would have been so boring, otherwise—it feels like there’s nothing else to talk about.