Always Learning!

The world through the prism of my mind

On open e-book standards and whether translating to Esperanto will bring more readers?

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on November 5, 2006

There is a fight brewing between David Rothman of TeleRead and Bill Janssen of Plucker fame. The point of contention (as I understand the issue) is what would be good format to produce e-books in.

Bill’s position is that any format that is not already accepted (specifically not html) is a lock-in and a disadvantage, whether that format is an open standard (like OpenReader) or a proprietary one (like Sony’s BBeB). He advocates using web browsers as ebook readers.

David’s point (and he invokes me in there) is that HTML format is not sufficient for all e-books, mostly due to the layout and browser changes issues. So, if HTML is not sufficient, we have to chose a new format. Thefore, it is better if the format is an open standard that can be implemented and maintained by multiple parties.

I am with David here and mostly for the reasons he pointed out. For my interests (language learning e-books), HTML is not a good enough format. Sure, I could hack HTML into submission for some of my goals, but it will require so much javascript, that it will not work in anything but a full-blown browser. I invite Bill to replicate the functionality of the Pocket e-Sword. so that it works well in IE, Firefox, Opera and Safari. Maybe that’s why Pepper Pad is integrating FBRReader despite already having a built in Firefox web browser.

So, where does Esperanto comes into it? Well, here is Bill’s quote (emphasis is mine):

Trying to standardize on a common “ebook format”, be it some IDPF creation, some OASIS masterpiece, or even the so-called OpenReader, would only be an attempt to force them all to publish in Esperanto, instead of their house languages. They still wouldn’t have customers.

Publishing in Esperanto does not bring customers? Really! I wonder where Bill gets that data. I don’t know how many (human)  languages he speak, but the only reasonable way I could interpret that statement was as “publishing English material in Esperanto would not bring any more English customers”. That could be a a point, where he would be mostly correct. Of course, the market for Esperanto is not English, it is global.

As an example, I want to take the book/movie Night Watch by my favourite author Sergey Lukyanenko. The book started in Russian, was made into the Russian movie with english subtitles, impacted American market and finally was translated (quite well) into English. What about Chinese or Egyptians? Would they be interested in this book? Maybe, but there is no easy way to find out because translation or even subtitling is very expensive.

Except that there is a way. Night Watch has just been translated into Esperanto (announcement in russian). There is even an excerpt available (unfortunately in PDF). Now, the book is accessible to people in China, Egypt or Germany, as long as they can read Esperanto. And if there is enough interest from those people, the book can be translated into their native languages as well to reach to the rest of the audience. The push model of finding the markets suddenly becomes a pull model of market finding you. This is not a new idea, it is already used by newspapers and even Vatican. It is called establishing a beachhead, I believe.
And that’s exactly the strength of open standards. They can expand the audience beyond original planned targets and bring new markets to your solution, adapting the solution to the market needs in the process.

Closed standards control the markets they know about, open standards create new, unplanned markets. I am currently in the market segment, Sony does not want to think about. Do I wait another 5 years for Sony to catch up or do I look for open standard and open source alternatives? There should be no need to guess.

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2 Responses to “On open e-book standards and whether translating to Esperanto will bring more readers?”

  1. Sigh. I wasn’t trying to knock Esperanto — in fact, I imply it would be an improvement over publisher-invented “house languages”. I simply don’t think publishing all books in Esperanto (which is understood by a minority of the world’s population) would help the ebook market much. Dante understood this when he wrote in Italian instead of Latin; Luther understood this with his “German bible”. I’m calling for publishers to use the standards people have actually adopted, instead of trying to force new ones on them.

  2. Bill,

    I am sure you meant well. After all I love Plucker to really think otherwise. But the phrasing you picked really did not make the issue clear.

    As to using the standards, it would be great if existing (open) standards were used instead of creating new ones. But, if that is not possible because of lack of features (which may or may not be the real reason), I think it is better to have a full competing open standard with company(s) backing behind it.

    It is possible that we are disagreeing about items too far down the line, since I do also think that HTML is better than random proprietary format. I just don’t agree that HTML is good as an ultimate format. I want a strong publication-oriented semantically-rich open format for that.

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