Is this Good for Me? The Proposed Combination of IDPF and W3C

Some IDPF Members within the publishing community have voiced concern about the proposed “combination” of the IDPF into the World Wide Web consortium (W3C). Many are concerned about the fate of the EPUB family of specifications. Some have expressed concerns about the proposed timeline. There also appear to be misconceptions about what has and has not already happened and the next steps and timeline for completing, or not, the combination. So, I’d like to present some background information about these transactions.

Why Was This Initiative Explored?

Two reasons. The W3C recognized that it needs active participation from the publishing industry to help advance the development of web standards, and the IDPF recognized that its members need to be active participants in shaping the web standards on which today’s publishing ecosystem depends. The future of EPUB depends on Web standards. If we are not part of shaping those standards, EPUB could become irrelevant.

Timeline

Six months ago, in April 2016, the IDPF and W3C announced plans to explore combining. For more than a year prior to that announcement, the IDPF board had carefully considered solutions to the technical and financial challenges facing the organization. Since that time, IDPF and W3C have offered numerous information sharing and outreach sessions with members around the world, offering presentations as well as open sessions to answer questions. The membership of both organizations as well as any non-members have now had more than six months to provide feedback and offer their comments. The current versions of the transaction documents incorporates extensive input from IDPF members since the initial announcement.

What has actually happened at this point?

At the direction of both IDPF and W3C leadership, the legal teams of both organizations collaboratively developed a Memorandum of Understanding and other transaction documents that seek to ensure the integrity and longevity of the Publishing Industry within the W3C. The IDPF Board has voted to put the documents in front of the membership. The voting members have been presented with detailed transaction documents (which under District of Columbia law include a “Plan of Membership Exchange” and “Resolutions for the Transfer of Assets”), the same legal documents that the Board has seen, along with extensive documentation of the reasoning behind them. The membership has now been asked to vote to authorize the Board to proceed to finalize the transactions.

According to IDPF Policies and Procedures, in order for this voting process to be valid and permit the transactions to move forward, a quorum of at least 33 members (more than 25% of IDPF’s 130 current members in good standing) must submit votes. Upon obtaining the necessary approvals, the parties will work to finalize the transactions.

This membership vote authorizes the Board to move forward, but it does not mean that the combination will necessarily happen. The deal is contingent on the parties executing the binding agreements, documents and filings necessary to carry out the transactions. The deal is contingent on the parties executing the binding agreements, documents and filings necessary to carry out the transactions. While this is not a time to make changes to the agreed upon legal documents, it is important to recognize that the parties have not reached a final agreement, and the Board will only move forward with process once all prerequisites have been resolved, all additional information considered, and, of course, all definitive agreements have been satisfactorily completed.

What happens to EPUB if the Combination Proceeds?

The first thing to know is that the EPUB Working Group has just elevated EPUB 3.1 to a Proposed Specification. It is expected that EPUB 3.1 will finish the Intellectual Property review period and reach Recommended Specification status before the end of 2016. Although the work on EPUB 3.1 began quite aggressively, the WG pulled back on many of the proposed changes to ensure that this release will be extremely stable. EPUB is very strong and doing well now, but to consolidate and grow beyond its current position, EPUB must be further integrated with the Web. Additionally, there are plans to have a W3C Community Group, which anyone can participate in without any dues, committed exclusively to EPUB maintenance. That is more than what the IDPF has now. There are no explicit plans for EPUB 4 or EPUB.Next at this point in time, but the transaction documents explicitly state that future work on EPUB will take place in the W3C, the W3C cannot charge a fee for EPUB, and EPUB-related property may not be sold or transferred (except under limited circumstances set forth in the transaction documents). Both the IDPF and the W3C recognize that EPUB has become essential to the publishing ecosystem and want to continue to advance that standard.

Some have expressed concerns about not being able to participate in a world as large as the W3C. Most of these comments have come from members who have not been active participants in the IDPF in many years. Both the IDPF and W3C often go out of their way to find ways for small organizations to participate. Aside from historically allowing invited experts, let’s look at the opportunities for participation that are proposed to be created under this combination:

  • A new “Publishing Business Group” will be created within W3C to foster ongoing participation by Transitional Publishing Industry Members and others in the publishing industry, which will serve as a conduit for feedback between the publishing industry and W3C. Existing members of IDPF will pay the same fees that they are currently paying to participate in this group for the first two years. Unaffiliated individuals can join for just $300.
  • After the two-year transitional period the standard W3C Business Group fees will apply. For some organizations they are higher, and for some they are lower than current IDPF fees. One reason the IDPF board sees this as so beneficial to the publishing industry is that for companies whose annual revenues are between $5 million and $50 million the W3C Business Group fees are actually lower than current IDPF dues. This will enable a very broad range of publishers to participate.
  • A Steering Committee of the Publishing Business Group will be created to advise W3C on the direction of current and future publishing activity work carried out through W3C, and to ensure that the interests of the publishing industry are appropriately reflected in such publishing activity work.
  • A new “Publishing Working Group” is expected to be formed within W3C to supervise development of EPUB and other specifications relevant to the publishing Industry.
  • A Community Group, open to any member or non-member free of charge, will be dedicated to maintenance of EPUB 3.

Let’s take a look at the history of EPUB. DAISY had great success with DTBook for many years. When they saw the opportunity to merge their standard with the IDPF’s EPUB standard it was viewed as an opportunity. Were there risks? Absolutely. But, now any book that complies with the EPUB 3 specification is also at least minimally compliant with DAISY standards. We are looking at an opportunity that may not present itself again. We have the chance to make our books, journals, magazines, and any other publication available on reading systems and integrated with Open Web standards. Are there risks? Absolutely, but imagine what is possible when working with this larger group.

The Greatest Risk

The IDPF Board is recommending this action because it recognizes that the greatest risk we face is that there will be a competing standard with EPUB and that such a standard will come to supplant EPUB. This combination is being pursued to ensure that the evolution of the EPUB standard and the web standards on which it is based continue to serve the interests of the publishing industry. This is a goal shared by both the IDPF and the W3C.

Is this Combination Good for Me?

I believe it is. EPUB and EPUB Reading Systems are fully contingent on W3C specifications, such as HTML, CSS, and are at a relatively stable place with the standard itself being a few steps beyond what Reading Systems can handle currently and what the marketplace is trying to support. As the needs for EPUB continue to develop, the EPUB community will benefit from direct input to and from other work happening at the W3C — ideas such as Progressive Web Apps, Web App Manifest, and Service Workers. Working closely with these teams offers us a perspective not previously available and allows us see where our requirements are not always unique to our one market segment. We may discover a quick solution by tweaking an existing, adopted standards. Hopefully, we will find that EPUB Authoring tools are easier to create. This also allows EPUB to continue to expand within the broader world of publishing and beyond it, making the standard more stable and well understood, which is good for all of us.

I have had the privilege of working on both IDPF and W3C specifications for the past several years. Both organizations benefit from the collaboration, and it is time to formalize the relationship.

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