As World Book and Copyright Day is celebrated on 23 April, 399 years to the day Shakespeare and Cervantes died, it is interesting to note that books have expanded beyond paper support to the electronic world. The IEC plays an important role in this expansion through standardization work by some of its Technical Committees (TCs).
Although books are thousands of years old and can be found in many ancient civilizations around the world on many different supports, it was the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century that marked the beginning of what can be described as the “modern book”.
Wider access through sound
The first foray outside paper-based books took place in the 1930s when books were recorded on long-playing records (LPs) initially aimed at the visually-impaired.
In 1933 the American Foundation for the Blind developed the first long-playing record and player to provide books in audio format to people of all ages who had disabilities that prevented them from reading standard print books.
Audiobooks on LPs later extended beyond the world of the visually-impaired to reach schools and libraries. The invention and widespread adoption of the compact audio cassette, in the mid to late 1960s, provided an ideal platform for audiobooks to reach the general public.
The end of the physical medium
The introduction of digital audio and of its initial storage mechanism, the CD (compact disc), didn’t lead to the immediate demise of the compact cassette as the most popular platform for audiobooks.
The migration of digital audio files from a set physical medium (cassette or CD) to online electronic distribution had a momentous impact for the music industry and for audiobooks as well. The files are now available in a number of distinctive formats that can be played on different devices.
Standards matter for audiobooks
The need to define the audiobook electronic file format structure to ensure compatibility with music industry and multimedia standards, as well as how to present and navigate an audiobook effectively, led Technical Area (TA) 10: Multimedia e-publishing and e-book technologies, of IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, to prepare an International Standard, IEC 62571:2011, Digital audiobook file format and player requirements. It “defines requirements and provides recommendations to publishers, software developers, content providers, and hardware manufacturers for the data structure, usability requirements, playback systems and delivery systems for audiobooks in digital file format.”
From print to e-publishing
Arguably the most popular medium for books beside paper is the so-called e-book that can be read on special e-readers, which have proven extremely popular, as well as on other electronic mobile devices such as tablets and mobile phones, or computers.
In view of the need to standardize formats for e-book data interchange among authors, data preparers, publishers and readers, IEC TC 100/TA 10 prepared IEC 62605:2011.
e-books need e-paper
Standards for submission, interchange and reader’s formats may be essential for e-books but so are International Standards for electronic paper displays (EPDs) for e-readers. Working Group (WG) 7 of IEC TC 110: Electronic display devices, has been developing the IEC 62679 series of International Standards for EPDs.
Protecting rights owners
IEC International Standards for both e-books and audiobooks formats include provisions for digital rights management (DRM) and for copyright information, to protect authors and distributors.
IEC work standardization work for e-books and audiobooks is extending the reach of books beyond paper allowing them to touch a wider and more diversified audience as well as allowing people with certain disabilities to have access to many works.