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Interview with Liza Daly about the Ibis Reader

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I've started a bi-weekly interview series with leaders and innovators in the book industry. My first interviewee is Liza Daly, of ThreePress Consulting, and the woman who knows all about ePub. Liza, along with Keith Fahlgren, recently launched the Ibis Reader, a cross-platform mobile reading app built on HTML5. I asked Liza to tell me all about it.

1. There are lots of good mobile e-reader applications out there: Stanza, Kindle, eReader, Kobo, not to mention dedicated readers like Nook and Kindle and the Sony Reader. Why do we need Ibis?

Ibis isn't meant to compete with any of these. In fact we're quite open about encouraging readers to take their books off Ibis Reader and put them on a preferred device. You can download a complete epub off the web site any time, and on the mobile devices we provide some quick "Read in Stanza" links on the iPhone (or Aldiko on Android).

What we hope to be able to do in the coming months is provide features that are only available on a web-native platform. Because everything is just a web page, and the code is common across all devices, we can roll out new features and fixes quicker than any of the above. We should be able to innovate as fast as the ideas come.

2. The big problem with mobile readers right now is availability of titles. How will Ibis users get access to new books?

We're committed to a DRM-free approach, which we know is going to be tricky in terms of acquiring popular content. But there's great literature and non-fiction being created outside of the traditional publishing industry. We're still calling titles on Ibis Reader "books," but in the digital space it doesn't have to be a traditional book at all. We want to help readers and authors connect with all forms of writing -- short stories, literary criticism, poetry, comics, even interactive fiction or video! It just has to be wrapped up in epub. Despite some anti-hype, epub is a great container for any content you want to distribute digitally.

3. Will people be able to buy books and read them on Ibis?

We sure hope so. For us, it's critical that paid content be almost as frictionless as free content. Anyone who's bought an ebook lately (outside of the Kindle hardware ecosystem) knows that it's anything but straightforward to buy digital books. So we won't go ahead until we're happy with our approach.

4. Will publishers be able to sell books to Ibis users?

We're definitely interested in talking to publishers who want to be able to sell direct-to-consumer. That's been very successful for small to medium niche publishers.

5. How does OPDS work with Ibis?

OPDS is critical to discovering and acquiring books in a mobile context where people don't want to type, and can't upload their own books. At launch, we'll use OPDS similar to the way Stanza and Aldiko do: we'll browse public catalogs of free content and let people get those books with just a click. The catalogs are always up to date and provide great metadata, covers, etc., all in a commonly-understood data format.

Eventually, of course, we're interested in using OPDS to manage paid transactions, and we've got some other ideas about how OPDS can help people discover books outside of just browsing catalogs.

6. What's so great about HTML 5?

HTML5 has definitely been a wild ride. It's got weaknesses for sure -- Ibis Reader on a mobile device definitely isn't as fast or as feature-filled as a native app, and Android doesn't behave in the same way as the iPhone. There are limitations we'd love to be able to overcome. On the other hand, it's a tremendous asset for a tiny company to have a cross-platform environment to work with, and adoption of HTML5 on devices and by consumers is only going to grow. It's a good place to be even though it hasn't been easy.

7. What is the relationship between ePub and HTML5?

Right now it's uncertain. There's definitely movement within the IDPF to make some kind of forward-looking statement about HTML5. In particular I think it's critical that we adopt the <video> tag, to avoid unintentionally tying ePub to proprietary technologies like Flash. But HTML5 is more than just video and offline usage, and I don't want ePub to stagnate.

8. What about DRM and Ibis?

Easy question. No DRM.

9. What do you think is the biggest challenge to for ebooks in the next few years?

Right now the fight is over pricing, but I think ease of purchase is the real barrier to consumer adoption. It's so puzzling right now. People are going to be much more willing to pay publishers' dream prices if they can just get the books with minimal hassle and have some of the same freedoms of use that print books have allowed.

10. What do you think about global markets for ebooks?

This is a huge area for us. I expect mobile reading and information access to be a key growth area for digital content globally, and in the developing world especially. The old publishing territorial rights models aren't going to last long. I can't think of a better way to ensure that ebook piracy becomes entrenched than a refusal to adopt worldwide rights for digital content sales. During Ibis development we've taken special care to make sure that we fully support non-English content and scripts.

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Find out more about Liza & Three Press Consulting, and go play with Ibis Reader!

NOTE: this interview was cross-posted at the Book Oven Blog.