ENTRIES TAGGED "EPUB 3"
Ebooks are deliberately being made defective through digital restrictions
This article contains my personal views, not those of my employer Lonely Planet.
I’ll be blunt. Ebooks and EPUB are to the publishing industry what Blu-Ray is to the movie industry: a solution to yesterday’s problem made irrelevant by broader change in the industry. Both have a couple of years left in them, and there’s good money to be made while the kinks get worked out from the alternatives, but the way the wind is blowing is clear.
Whenever someone proposes EPUB as a solution, ask yourself a question: what’s the problem they’re trying to solve? As a standard drafted by the IDPF, a self-proclaimed “organization for the Digital Publishing Industry”, EPUB is built squarely to address the industry’s biggest headache: ensuring that, in the digital age, they retain the ability to charge money for distributing content. The best interests of authors or readers simply do not figure in the equation. Read more…
Accessibility is a feature every publisher needs to own and implement
Since adding the accessible DAISY format to our ebook bundles in late 2010, we’ve seen a slow but steady uptick in customers downloading and using these files. In looking at downloads month to month in 2012, we find that downloads are routinely into the high hundreds and often over the thousand mark (for more data on which formats O’Reilly customers are downloading, check out Joe’s post from earlier this year).
The Android ecosystem shares some of the same obstacles
Ebook vendors enjoy a closed loop ecosystem. They have millions of reader/customers who are satisfied with EPUB 2 display capabilities and devices. Amazon readers, for example, are largely content with the offerings in the proprietary Kindle store; they’re not lining up with torches and pitchforks to push for improvements. While publishers wait for eReader device manufacturers to add new features and EPUB 3 support, eBooksellers are just as happy to wait.
A user experience plea for more consistency across platforms
Ebook publishing is full of problem areas, most of which cannot be addressed through standardisation but can only come about via a sea-change in the behaviour and nature of the various participants in the ebook industry.
There are, however, several issues that could be addressed, at least partially, via standardisation, that would make everybody’s life easier if implemented.
One of the major issues facing publishers today is the spiralling complexity of dealing with vendor rendering overrides.
Each vendor applies different CSS overrides with differing behaviours, sometimes even only enabling features through server-side manipulation, which means that proper testing of an ebook is not only difficult, but impossible.
If vendors cannot be talked out of requiring these overrides then they need to be standardised and normalised. Any reading system that implements a CSS override is in violation of how the CSS standard defines the cascade and so is in violation of the EPUB 3 standard.
CSS overrides come in four broad types:
- Vendor styles only – The publisher’s styles are completely ignored in favour of the vendor’s.
- Aggressive vendor styles, but publisher styles enabled – Very little is seen of the publisher styles in this scenario. They mainly surface in edge cases that weren’t accounted for in the vendor’s stylesheet.
- Minimal overrides – The vendor only really enforces control over margins, backgrounds, and possibly font styles.
- Publisher styles – The mode that the reading app goes into when the reader deliberately selects ‘publisher styles’. Under ordinary circumstances this would simply disable the overrides but in most reading apps this mode has a unique behaviour.
Two experts help us navigate the ebook format jungle
One of the benefits of working on TOC is that I get to see some of the behind-the-scenes industry debates that take place via email. Since it’s “formats” month here in TOC-land I thought it would be fun to share a thread about HTML5 vs. EPUB 3 featuring O’Reilly’s Sanders Kleinfeld and the IDPF’s Bill McCoy. They’ve both agreed to share this thread with the TOC community since it helps clarify the state of both EPUB 3 and HTML5.
It all started with an HTML5 interview I did with Sanders earlier this month. Bill reached out to Sanders as follows:
Your mileage may vary, especially on the Nook
I also agree with you that Web-technologies-based apps are the future for experience delivery, both in browser and increasingly for native-class apps that are liberated from the browser (whether wrapped in PhoneGap or CEF, W8 Metro apps or the new Chrome Packaged App model Google rolled out this summer at I/O).
Sanders: Yes, I think what I find so frustrating is that we’ve got tablets on the market like the Nook, which use two different engines to render Web content–one for the Web browser and one for the ereader–and the ereader is lagging so far behind the browser in HTML5 support. The ereader is being treated like a second-class citizen, even though it’s ostensibly the primary feature of the tablet (or at least the primary feature by which the tablet is being marketed; I concede that there are many people buying the Nook who just want a low-cost Android tablet, and have no intention of reading ebooks on it).
One of the things I appreciate most about iBooks is that it uses the same Webkit engine as Mobile Safari, and if you test the same HTML5 content in Safari and in iBooks, you usually get the same results.
Distinguishing apps from ebooks
Bill: But… despite all this violent agreement… I’m having a hard time with your contention in the interview that “a lot less is going to fall in the eBook side than it does now for enhanced text and graphics… anything that’s more enhanced is going to drift over to the app side… we’ll have our standard EPUBs for fiction/nonfiction and then biology textbooks will be on the other side”. That’s what I want to probe on in this email.
Sanders: I’ve thought about this quite a bit after my initial conversation with Joe, and I think the debate of “ebook” vs. “app” can be pretty facile if you’re not careful about how you define those somewhat loaded terms. And I think I failed to do a good job of that in my interview. So let me step back and try to do better now.
I think Phase 1 of ebook creation for publishers was basically, “Let’s take all our print books and digitize them so they can be read on a Kindle or iPad”, without much in the way of innovation in terms of interactivity, customized rendering for a reflowable context, or even hyperlinking.
I think we’ve now graduated to Phase 2, where publishers are thinking, “How can we make customized digital content for tablet devices, instead of plain-old text-and-graphics ebooks? Do I make an ‘app’ or do I make an ‘enhanced ebook?’” I think publishers are generally taking two approaches to this:
Approach #1: Hire on software developers to make full-fledged native apps they can sell in the app stores for iPad/iPhone/iPad and Android (lots of these are children’s titles, e.g. “Finding Nemo: My Puzzle Book“)
Approach #2: Make an “enhanced ebook”, which takes the standard Phase 1 text-and-graphics context, and then grafts on some multimedia features, like audio and video clips (here I’m thinking of the Steven Tyler memoir “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You (Enhanced Edition)“, which was featured prominently in Ana Maria Allessi’s talk at Editech)
I’m rather against Approach #2, because I don’t think it’s especially innovative, and I don’t think it’s what customers really want out of next-generation e-content. I feel like the whole notion of “enhanced ebooks” is somewhat of a transitional concept, as publishers start making baby steps in rethinking how they produce content for a Digital First world. In the long term (next 5 years or so), I think a large part of the “enhanced-ebook” middle ground is going to go away, and ebook content is going to fall more neatly into one of two categories:
Category 1: The standard text-and-graphic content that you can read on even the lowest-end eInk ereader (because I don’t think all-text fiction/nonfiction is ever going to go out of favor)
Category 2: Everything else, which will be more and more app-like in the sense that it will be highly interactive, to-some-degree social (commenting, linked to Facebook/Twitter, etc.), and conceived from the start for a Web context (densely hyperlinked, with sophisticated mechanisms to search content and navigate it in a nonlinear fashion)
So, that’s what I was getting at above; I just wish I had articulated it better in my interview.
That’s just part one, folks. Stay tuned later this week for excerpts from the rest of the thread where Bill and Sanders talk further about the subtleties of EPUB 3, HTML5 and web apps.
EPUB 3: The future of digital publications
The first two parts of this three-part series covered the enduring need for portable documents and why PDF’s fundamental architecture is too dated and too limited to fill this need. In this final part, we’ll take a look at EPUB, the format that has rapidly emerged as the open standard for eBooks. It’s my contention that EPUB, not PDF, represents the future of portable documents in our increasingly Web-based world. Why? In short, EPUB addresses all the key limitations of PDF. EPUB is reflowable, accessible, modular (with packaging and content cleanly separated), and based on HTML5 and related Web Standards. It’s a truly open format, developed in a collaborative process to meet global requirements rather than by a single vendor to support its proprietary products. Let’s take a harder look at these points.
Sanders Kleinfeld on obstacles to a unified ebook format.
In a recent video interview, O'Reilly's Sanders Kleinfeld addressed a number issues surrounding ebook formats. He also talked about how vendors are among the biggest obstacles to an open, universal ebook standard and the end of DRM.
Bill McCoy on EPUB 3 and keeping pace with innovation.
In this video interview, Bill McCoy, executive director of the IDPF, says it's important to emphasize and encourage the innovative aspects of building upon EPUB 3, as long as that innovation doesn't lock consumers in to one closed silo.