ENTRIES TAGGED "Fixed-Layout"
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.
How to mimic flowing text in a non-reflowable format
Q: In a traditional printed book, if a paragraph has not finished when the end of the page is reached, the entire paragraph will be justified. However the [CSS] command ‘text align last’ does not seem to be honoured in the last paragraph of the page in fixed layout for the iPad…What seems to happen is that in [InDesign CS6] it ‘looks’ justified but it doesn’t make it through to the epub version and there is a small gap at the end of the line. If you add text it goes on to a new line. I tried adding whitespace but that didn’t seem to be accepted…Is the problem with ibooks? Is there any workaround?
A: When you load a standard EPUB file into iBooks, the application automatically paginates the HTML content based on screen size and settings set by the user (font and font size). Content flows from page to page, and if a paragraph spans a page break, text alignment will be consistent on both pages.
Fixed-layout EPUBs differ from standard EPUBs in that it is the ebook designer who sets the pagination of the book, not the iBooks application. Each XHTML document in a fixed-layout EPUB file corresponds to a distinct page in the book, and no content is flowed from one page to the next.
If you want to mimic a text flow from page to page in a fixed-layout EPUB, you’ll need to split the text between two separate HTML documents. This poses a challenge if you want your text to be justified, because the text-align: justify CSS property does not stretch the final line of a paragraph to the full text-column width.
The good news is that CSS3 offers a solution to this very problem: the text-align-last property, which allows you to indicate how the final line of a text block is aligned. text-align-last: justify specifies that the final line should be fully justified, and span the full text column width.
The bad news about this good news is that text-align-last is not yet fully honored across all major Web browsers. It is supported in Mozilla-based browsers (Firefox), but is not supported in the Webkit engine, which powers Safari, Chrome, and—sadly—the iBooks ereader. Neither text-align-last nor the WebKit-specific -webkit-text-align-last, nor the EPUB3-specific -epub-text-align-last will produce the desired effect in the iBooks reader.
But some more good news for the intrepid and patient is there’s a hack-y HTML/CSS workaround that can achieve the effect of text-align-last: justify in iBooks (your mileage may vary on other ereader platforms).
Tweak word spacing using CSS
The old-school (dating all the way back to CSS1) word-spacing property allows you to designate a specific amount of space to place in between words. The following example uses word-spacing: 7px to specify that the last seven words on the page should have seven pixels of whitespace between them:
<p>Everywhere there are mysteries. And the most ancient man-made wonders of all are the stone monuments erected by our Neolithic and Early bronze Age ancestors between 4000 and 1500BC - or, if it is less difficult to visualize in this way, between 140 and 240 generations ago. Little England (and smaller Scotland and Wales) are rich in these megalithic structures. Archaeologists tell us that more than a thousand chambered tombs and some 700 stone circles have resisted the smoothing iron of wind and rain, the teeth of the plough, the <span style="word-spacing: 7px">grasping hands of wave upon wave of</span></p>
And here’s a screenshot illustrating how this text renders in iBooks.
The main benefit of this approach is that it gives you fine-grained control over the whitespace in a paragraph. The downside is that it can require a fair amount of trial and error to determine the proper word-spacing values to achieve the desired justification effect. If you do decide to use this method, and have a paid iTunes Connect ebooks account, I highly recommend using Apple’s Book Proofer tool, as it eliminates much of the hassle involved in syncing EPUB files between your computer and your iPad/iPhone/iPod.