A few years ago, the standard view was that magazines and books needed a suitable digital file format in which they could be stored (something which might become an industry standard like the MP3 was for music). The internet was the powerful new way in which publications would be shipped. To this way of thinking, digitization was all about electronic delivery. It seemed kind of obvious that this was the road ahead, and most of the companies, our competitors, that offer a digital magazine platform have this kind of technology. It usually means a proprietary and non-standard file format, often a modified form of PDF.
There is a huge amount of baggage that comes with this way of looking at things. First, it seemed that publishers would only work with this sort of system if there was a workable technology for DRM (Digital Rights Management and there were lessons here from the music industry). Second, once we see the web as a way of providing users with issues as downloadable files, we have a lot of problems about making magazine archives searchable, and over co-ordinating the usage of copies of stuff that ought to be handled through a network resource. Third, there was a big problem in deciding whether digital books or magazines should be adapted and deformed so that their format changed in a digital version from what it was in print.
All these issues are being chased to ground by a consortium which works with book publishers. The International Digital Publishing Forum with its new proposed Open eBook Publication Structure Specification.
These standards may serve a useful purpose, but it could all be a real diversion. The Google Book Search way of handling digitization may be the way forward. In which case DRM was always a bad idea. Print will always be page-based and digital print will respect the conventions of pagination. Archives should only be searchable via a network service. References and citations should always target the source. Search services matter and distribution services are beside the point. And file formats need be of no concern to users. Access management is key, just as digital rights management is otiose.
In this new world the standards that matter will be to do with making different web services inter-operable, not with harmonising the formats in which texts are held.