Since I began researching articles for this blog over a year ago, certain issues have come around as reliably as day and night. Propriety formats that require publishers to reformat their work endlessly for different devices continue to cause anger, whilst DRM technology that restricts what customers can do with the ebooks they buy is almost certainly counterproductive. Amazon continue to try and lower ebook prices against publishers wishes, and libraries struggle to break into ebook lending due to publishers lending policies, and the lack of a suitable platform. I've written about these issues less and less, as there have been so few positive developments that it's become difficult to re-approach them in a constructive manner.
Groups affected by these problems are clearly in need of a proactive, organised campaigning force, which is where the Publication Standards Project comes in. You can read their far more eloquent take on the issues I've listed above in these two essays. Founder Nick Disabato is an interaction designer who also publishes a design and technology journal; in other words, he understands both the intricacies of web design and the priorities of small publishers. And he has big ambitions for Publication Standards; 'Over the rest of 2012, we're going to launch a new campaign each month that tackles a new issue.'
As a starting point, Publication Standards have set their sights on Digital Rights Management. In brief, DRM is the software ebook retailers use to encrypt a book so that it can only be read on one device. Imagine that your Kindle broke down and you decided to replace it with a Kobo or a Nook - DRM would prevent you from changing the format of your ebooks and moving them onto your new device. That's assuming you're incapable of googling 'remove DRM kindle'. So, DRM doesn't do what it's supposed to, but it is very good at convincing potential customers that ebooks have no intrinsic value; after all, you don't really own them. It also locks honest customers into using one device and one retailer, so if you'd prefer ebook retailing to become more diverse, you should oppose DRM.
What can you do to to combat the use of DRM? If you're an ebook customer, you can send a personalized version of this letter to major publishers, which explains why DRM isn't in their interests. Their addresses are listed on the same page. If you're an author, Publication Standards have written a letter you can use to persuade your publisher to sell your book DRM free. If, like me, you've self published a book, you can turn Amazon's DRM off yourself. Simply log into KDP, click on the title of your book, and scroll down to '5. Upload Your Book File'. You should see two boxes - ensure the one that says 'Do not enable digital rights management' is ticked, then save and continue. Once you're DRM free, you can display a button on your website linking back to Publication Standards, encouraging others to make the same decision.
Although Nick is keen to emphasize that, 'the Publication Standards Project is, (and will always be), against DRM', the main focus of their campaign is now the difficulties that libraries face in lending ebooks. Currently, lending policies are dictated by authors' and publishers' fears of how the practice might affect them. The Society of Authors' position on ebook lending is that it undermines bookselling by lessening the incentive for readers to buy rather than borrow a book. (This is despite recent research finding that, 'over 50% of all library users report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library'). These worries have lead to only two of the big six publishers, (Random House and Bloomsbury), signing up for OverDrive, the predominant ebook lending platform, and Macmillan and Simon & Schuster choosing not to lend ebooks at all. This means that libraries are unable to offer the best selection of ebook titles. They may also encounter issues finding a platform that caters to all devices, and face legal repercussions if borrowers manage to remove the DRM from books. And making the transition to digital is expensive: Random House recently tripled the price they charge libraries to buy ebooks.
Publication Standards already have a librarian on their panel, but they are keen to solicit more personal stories from those with direct experience of library work. If you work in a library, let them know how they can be more effective in advocating for you.
Nick is always keen to speak to organisations affected by digital publishing, in order to ensure Publication Standards continues to convey the right message. I mentioned to him some of the specific problems poetry publishers face when trying to format their books, and he agreed that, 'reflowing across pages is an issue, and typographic issues are of paramount concern.' It is important to remember that this problem ties in with Publication Standards' more general campaign for ePub to be supported across platforms, since this open standard has shown much more progress in meeting poetry publishers' needs than Amazon's Kindle format; 'Forced page breaks are a relatively solved problem with ePub'.
So, if you're a poetry publisher afflicted by the deficiencies of the Kindle format, or any of the other issues described above, it's definitely worth keeping up to date with Publication Standards' campaigns by entering your email address here.