Skate To Where The Puck Is Going
Sunday, September 16, 2018
Posted by: Brian O'Leary
Last week, I sat down with Karen Myers and Ralph Swick of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). We talk periodically, collaborating on ways to bring information about the W3C to the U.S. publishing market, as well as ways to reflect the needs of the book industry back to the W3C.
Since its merger with what had been the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), the W3C has been working to maintain and update the EPUB standard for digital books. It has also been working on the next generation of digital content consumption, a challenge and an opportunity as mobile reading grows across both online and offline devices.
Both BISG and the W3C promote awareness and adoption of standards and best practices. But, the W3C also supports the development and maintenance of various standards that make web publishing possible and practical. Karen, Ralph, and I spent a good deal of time talking about ways to describe that work in ways that resonate with the book industry.
A lot of what BISG does reflects the "here and now". In our committee work, we try to solve problems that affect two or more parts of the supply chain. We deliver information in the form of documents, summaries of best practices, webinars, and other programming. We act as a resource, one that Dave Cramer of Hachette Book Group likened to an “agricultural collective.”
Dave’s analogy is apt: BISG “helps the publishing industry work better and more efficiently by bringing it scientific knowledge and the results of research.” We don’t really set standards, but we bring the industry knowledge and hopefully a path to implement those standards.
By comparison, the W3C is working to future-proof the web, what may already be the primary mechanism for creating and distributing published content. I haven’t mustered the numbers to prove it, but I think that publishing has already moved to the web. It hasn’t happened everywhere, and it may happen less in some types of publishing than in others, but it is happening.
I’ve written before that “Print is not dead, but print alone most certainly is.” That seems beyond debate at this point. And the world beyond print – digital, including audio – lives and operates on the web that the W3C maintains.
If BISG is organized to solve current problems, the W3C is built to solve future problems, ideally before they actually occur. They work to build solutions that enable new ways of creating, managing, and distributing digital content. And they support the platforms that let online sales of published content take place, reliably and at scale.
To borrow a hockey analogy, the W3C is consistently trying to skate to where the puck is going. It’s a notion that eludes us at times: we can solve problems before we actually have them. BISG does some of that, but not yet enough. The W3C does that as its core mission.
When it comes to joining the W3C, a number of publishers and publishing organizations have stayed on the sidelines, either not joining or joining and participating at a modest level. That weakens us as an industry. The web is or will soon become the dominant publishing platform. We can help shape it, but we need to take seats at the table to make that happen.