Has EPUB peaked?

EPUB, the latest much-touted “replacement” for PDF as the world’s electronic document format, appears to have peaked, and is now in the process of returning to earth.

That is, according to Google Trends data as of March 2, 2015 (as captured in this screen-shot):

EPUB on Google Trends as of March, 2015. EPUB is significantly down from its peak in January 2014.

The internationally-standardized PDF format, however, continues to gain:

PDF on Google Trends

Notwithstanding IBM’s announcement at the beginning of 2014 that the company would be standardizing on EPUB, the company’s website is still awash in PDF files – over 874,000. the ebook format created by a consortium of publishers is limping, with consumers and the media complaining that the EPUB experience is inconsistent between devices, and plagued by DRM issues, among other concerns.

The reason for EPUB’s halting (if not negative) progress boils down to the same reasons why PDF is so successful, and continues to grow.

Unlike EPUB, PDF documents can contain high-quality, resolution-independent content from any source. Unlike EPUB, PDF technology includes all the basic features people expect in electronic documents, including the ability to add comments, redact text, use pages of differing sizes and orientations, navigate objects that span more than a single page, and more.

Once software vendors have added features to PDF viewers that allow for an EPUB-like experience we can expect to see the appeal of EPUB continue to fade. Given that the US federal government’s Access Board has dramatically raised the profile of accessible PDF, this sort of development will not be long in coming.

Unlike EPUB, PDF isn’t just a publication format, it’s a document format. It seems that people like their publications to have document features as well.


  1. March 2, 2015 at 15:57

    Great article, thanks!

    Harper Collins just switched completely over:
    Other major publishers are following suit for e-books.

    I think EPUB is going the other way for office documents, so you are seeing the start not the end in the stats. Once we have an easy to use EPUB 3 (way better than EPUB 2) creator from Word-it will change everything. Plus we are awaiting an EPUB 3 checker as well.

    As well, EPUB 3 changed the game, but it was just brought out. We need developers of convertor programs to catch up. Once this happens, I believe you will see the stats rise over time.

    I believe this is similar to what happened with PDF way back in the dark ages of the Internet, it took a while for it to get going…

    I think in a year, we will be seeing it rise again-like what we saw with google’s search engine in the late 90’s and then mid 2000s.

  2. March 4, 2015 at 09:11

    As mentioned on twitter it seems as though Google’s filetype search does not work for epub files, it just finds some fall-back HTML pages.
    For example, this page has loads of epubs: http://www.aeronautics.nasa.gov/ebooks/

    I suggested an alternative search you could do for IBM:
    site:ibm.com “download epub”
    I’m not sure there is such an indicator for .gov though as they don’t have standardised text for the downloads.

    What you could take from those pages though is that both IBM and NASA are providing epub, PDF and other formats (e.g. mobi) as standard for certain materials. There will still be a gazillion PDFs files around on the sites (like dark matter), but they have an established workflow that produces a variety of formats.

    Another aspect when you talk about PDF readers is how many people just use the browser now?

    Apart from my work computer (where I need Acrobat Pro for accessibility reasons), I just use Word’s built in PDF creator, and view all PDFs in my browser(s). Firefox/Chrome view PDFs natively, and on OSX safari punts a PDF to the ‘preview’ app.

    I have no idea how anyone would get stats for this, but outside of big companies with standardised hardware/software profiles, do people download PDF readers anymore?

    If not, that undermines the ‘document’ aspects, as few people can or will bother to use comments/redaction etc.

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