EDRLab will boost the digital publishing ecosystem

« Access to information and knowledge is the single most powerful tool available to promote world peace. »
(G. Kerscher, DAISY, November 18, 2015 in « La solidarité » on EPUBZone).

So, let’s talk about easy diffusion of digital publications, interoperability and accessibility.


At the beginning, there was EPUB, a format for born-digital publications (novels, education, legal or technical) created by IDPF (International Publishing Forum), an open standardization body.

EPUB3 is the latest version, born in 2011. Some of EPUB3 main features are:

  • Built on web technologies ((X)HTML5, SVG, MathML, XML, JSON …)
  • For readers (multi-columns, pages, TOC, glossaries, bookmarks, annotations)
  • In reflow (like a novel) or fixed-layout mode (like an art book or magazine)
  • Allowing rich content + accessibility (media overlays)
  • Protected (watermarking, usage rights)
  • Packaged as a unique publication file (zip)

If you see the Web as an lake, you can imagine an EPUB file as an ice cube: a solid piece of the lake that will refresh your soul later. 

The EPUB3 format is a search for interoperability (web technologies), accessibility (easy audio rendering via TTS, Braille) and flexibility (from a legal document to an art book).

Reality check

Until now EPUB3 dreams didn’t become a worldwide reality. This is partly because:

  1. Amazon, Apple, the 2 big players on the market, tend to play a “my castle my rules” game. Amazon (Kindle) and Apple (iBooks) silo platforms take a large market share, but stand between publishers and readers. On a different axis, Adobe multiplatform SDK, with a quite expensive and unfriendly DRM, does not satisfy the implementers of its solution.
  2. No vendor was able to create an interoperable ecosystem for EPUB3, leading to a fragmented market.

Capture Reality check

Which brings me to EDRLab, and a question: how can EDRLab bring innovations to the publishing industry?


The Readium Foundation was created for developing technology to accelerate adoption of EPUB3 by the global digital publishing industry. The Readium SDK aims at becoming the reference implementation of an EPUB3 open-source e-reader engine.

The Readium Foundation and IDPF have many European members, and both organizations decided to create a European sibling of their US headquarters (an Asian equivalent could follow one day). After some discussion on which country this new organization would grow, it was created some months ago in Paris, as the European Digital Reading Lab.

In fact many fairies bent over the EDRLab cradle:

  • IDPF and Readium: EDRLab is European headquarter for these non-profit organisations. EDRLab also works with Daisy on accessible publications and W3C on Portable Web Publications.
  • Digital Publishing industry in France and Europe:
    • Top French publishers (Hachette, Editis, Madrigall, Médias Participations), syndicates (SNE, Cercle de la Librarie)
    • Solution vendors : Feedbooks, Mantano
  • French Tech, via Cap Digital
  • Administrations : French Ministry of Culture, & Industry

Capture EDRLab center

EDRLab will boost the digital publishing ecosystem

Innovation is always new answer to an old problem.

Capture EDRLab innovation

In summary, competing publishers and tech vendors actively collaborate on setting up a development team dedicated to the creation of open-source tools, for the benefits of the whole European industry. This is a real innovation in the digital publishing industry, on the organizational level at least.

The ultimate goal of the initiative is to fulfill the dreams of EPUB creators: bring interoperability, accessibility, flexibility and usability to the publishing industry.

What about pure technical innovations? The Readium project is fairly innovative, but complex: it is made of interrelated pieces of open-source code, targeting the largest spectrum of devices:

  1. A reader engine as a C++ SDK; this library parses an EPUB2 or EPUB3 publication, and can be used in iOS, Android, OSX or Windows native applications.
  2. Complete iOS and Android applications (currently very basic versions) based on the C++ SDK;
  3. A client-side Javascript application usable from any browser;
  4. A complete Chrome extension, with storage capabilities for offline reading.

Many complex technical questions arise for the next steps of development: should we go 100% Javascript, using e.g. Apache Cordova, Electron, NW.js, Ionic for creating hybrid apps? Should we develop on native OS features as much as possible? Can we have the “fromage” (portability) and “dessert” (speed) ? Deep expertise in multidevice application development will be needed to help us choose the best direction.

Another important area of interest for EDRLab is the development of a lightweight DRM called LCP, which will enable protecting business models (e.g. the lending model of public libraries) whilst offering ease of use and interoperability.

And, this is not the simplest work, we’ll work on a detailed documentation of the Readium SDK, which is currently missing for getting wide adoption.

When the client part will be cleared, EDRLab may focus on open-source EPUB authoring tools … but this is another story.

You’re welcome to help us building these great tool, by becoming EDRLab members and working on the open-source code (Gnu Affero licence, or alternative Apache licence if closed-source evolutions are required).

Oh, by the way we’ll soon hire 1 or 2 junior developers, don’t hesitate to contact me if you feel you can boost the digital publishing ecosystem.

Follow EDRLab on Twitter : @EDRLab_org