Mike Cane has a provocative (as ever!) post up today, ePub is Not Universal, So Stop the BS. It all started when I posted this to Twitter:
Thinking about AMZN rumor http://bit.ly/cMUSqA @katerados and DK news (investing in iPad apps), and thinking apps keep AMZN out #eprdctn
I think it's a shame that Dorling Kindersley might shutter their beautiful books behind iPad apps instead of taking advantage of the EPUB standard in order to make them available to any EPUB compatible reader. It's pretty short-sighted.
EPUB will eventually win out because it's an open-source standard based on the already universal standard that is HTML. It is text-based and non-proprietary which means that any computer can read it. That means any desktop computer, any mobile computer, any tablet.
Mike worries about different engines in different ereaders, but though that has caused headaches for web designers, it has not stopped HTML from being the universal language of web pages. Internet Explorer and Firefox have different engines, but have joined in the end to support HTML standards and display HTML the same way.
He also complains about DRM, but that is a bit like complaining about different web portals requiring log-ins. If Facebook makes me sign in to use their site, that doesn't make HTML any less universal.
I started writing books about writing HTML in 1995. I am convinced that the reason that the web grew at the rate that it did was because anyone could write HTML, anyone could create their own web site and publish what they wanted to say. They didn't need expensive tools or credentials. And what they wrote could be read by anyone on the internet.
EPUB, based on HTML, has the same power. You can write an EPUB document with any free text editor. And while it's true that there are a fair number of details to keep in mind, you don't have to be a programmer or have an advanced degree. I am convinced that anyone can do it. (I even wrote a book about it to make it easier, but that's not my point here.)
Will EPUB be based on XHTML 1.1 or HTML5? It doesn't matter. HTML5 is backwards compatible and so any ereader that accepts HTML5 will also accept the current flavor of EPUB.
And on the other side? You can read EPUB with any one of many free non-proprietary ereaders. EPUB is HTML, ereaders are browsers. Both are universal.
The web is what it is because it belongs to all of us. The barriers to participation are incredibly low. EPUB will win because it has 6 billion people and HTML behind it.