China and Taiwan agree to promote EPUB e-book standard

China and Taiwan agreed in principal to promote the EPUB e-book format for the Chinese-language market at a technology conference last week, and officials plan to meet again next year to solidify the deal, Taiwan's economics ministry said Wednesday.

The push to promote a standard e-book format by the two economies could have far-reaching implications for the e-book and e-reader markets. The Chinese are avid readers and publishers will have to use the EPUB (.epub) format for materials they hope to sell in the market of 1.3 billion people. People in Taiwan also enjoy reading, and companies on the island are leading the charge to build e-readers. Government backing by China and Taiwan will encourage them to make EPUB one of the standards available on their devices.

Currently, there are dozens of e-book formats, from the Amazon Kindle's proprietary AZW (.azw) format to Open E-book's XML-based .opf and APABI (.xeb, .ceb), another format aimed at Chinese materials by Founder Electronics. The numerous specifications make it hard for the average person to choose one, but it's an important choice. E-books with the Kindle's AZW format will only work on Kindles or in reader software for other devices, so as a person builds their e-book collection, they will always be tied to that vendor.

EPUB is different. It's an open standard and e-books made on the format can be used in multiple devices (not the Kindle, however), including Barnes & Noble's new Nook e-reader, Sony's Reader and with Adobe Digital Editions.

"With keen interest in technical and content-related cooperation between businesses in Taiwan and mainland China, authorities on each side of the Taiwan Strait have already in principle agreed to adopt the free and open EPUB digital standard," Taiwan's economics ministry said in a statement.

The statement notes the importance of using an open standard that will allow global cooperation "in many languages in addition to Chinese that are readable using any kind of e-book reader."

The EPUB announcement comes on the heels of a China-Taiwan technical standards forum held in Taipei last week, where officials from the two places discussed TD-SCDMA (Time-Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access) 3G mobile network technology, as well as the creation of standards for LCD screens, LED technology, audio/visual devices, Internet TV, green technologies and more.

China and Taiwan have worked more closely in recent years on the joint development of technical standards in the hopes of matching Taiwan's technology prowess with China's huge market. Their goal is to develop technical standards so they don't have to rely on or pay license fees for standards developed in the West, and ultimately to create their own global standards.

Taiwan will on Thursday formally announce an NT$2 billion (US$66 million) plan to promote the development of the electronic publications industry in Taiwan. The government has already launched numerous efforts to build the e-reader industry, and Taiwanese companies have moved aggressively into the product segment.

Far EasTone Telecommunications, one of Taiwan's largest mobile service providers, has applied for government funding to provide e-book content to mobile readers over WiMax wireless broadband signals. Book publishers in Taiwan, software developers and hardware makers joined Far EasTone in the application, the ministry said.

The e-reader industry has become a key focus for Taiwan ever since Amazon's Kindle took the U.S. by storm. The device was built by Prime View International, a Taiwanese contract electronics manufacturer, which as been boosted by the success of the device. Prime View in June announced a deal to acquire E-ink Corporation, the U.S. developer of digital ink technology, for US$215 million.

Prime View is only one of a number of Taiwanese electronics makers that see a bright future in designing and producing e-readers. Others include Foxconn Electronics, Asustek Computer, AU Optronics, Delta Electronics and Inventec Appliances.

Companies in Taiwan and China have already started selling e-readers and e-books, including China Mobile, the world's largest mobile network operator.

The Chinese telecom company, which boasted 513.5 million subscribers as of the end of October, already offers two e-readers in China and sells e-books on its Mobile Market online store. The shop sells around 30,000 books, magazines, comics and other material available from several Chinese publishers.

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