ENTRIES TAGGED "PDF"

Betting on the future of the book

Booktype continues to evolve as a world-class production platform

Visiting London Book Fair last week, many of the stands offered ebook technology or outsourcing for legacy format conversion services. Ebooks might seem a seductive bet to the publisher looking anxiously towards the all-digital future, but I find it hard to imagine them as the total solution for every reader and situation.

Jenn Webb’s post on the digital divide pointed out that authors who go ebook-only may be excluding readers. In my own rural community in England, public libraries are closing or under threat of closure, but hard copy books still circulate widely and re-circulate for pennies in thrift stores and informal markets, or for free among friends. Competing with an almost-free status quo looks like a tough sell, given the up-front cost and limited lifespan of e-reader devices.

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Current state of formats and platforms

A free SPI Global whitepaper summarizing industry trends

SPi GlobalRemember the old days when PDF was pretty much the only way to distribute content and those PDFs were read on computer screens? PDF still lives, of course, but now we’re also faced with offering content in mobi and EPUB formats for consumption on a variety of platforms and devices.

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What devices and formats do your customers prefer?

Your future content plans can be shaped by asking these questions

Most publishers create ebooks in all formats figuring it doesn’t matter whether mobi is more important than EPUB or if the content is read on an iPad more frequently than on a mobile phone. That approach means these publishers have no idea how their content is being consumed. It also means they probably don’t have a direct channel to their customers or some other way of polling them on their preferences.

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High-quality PDF-to-EPUB conversion

Newgen's Silk Evolve is a powerful automation platform

How many times have you opened an ebook and noticed awkward hyphenations or other conversion errors? I still see this in the majority of the ebooks I buy and it’s clear these are the result of someone not paying attention during the conversion process. They may be minor annoyances but they reflect poorly on the publishers who produce them.

I recently had a chance to talk about this problem with Patrick Martinent, the CTO at Newgen KnowledgeWorks. They have a terrific platform called Silk Evolve that helps automate and reduce the errors when going from PDF to EPUB. The following Q&A is a preview to what you can expect to hear in Patrick’s session at next month’s TOC NY conference.

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Ebook problem areas that need standardisation

A user experience plea for more consistency across platforms

The “best price” phase of TOC NY 2013 registration is about to end. Don’t wait or you’ll end up paying more than you would today. To save even more on your registration, sign up here and use the discount code JOE20 to get an additional 20% off the current price on the conference package of your choice.

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.

Overrides

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.
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Portable Documents for the Open Web (Part 3)

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.

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Portable Documents for the Open Web (Part 2)

Why PDF is not the future of portable documents

Part 1 of this three-part series argued that there will be an enduring need for portable documents even in a world that’s evolving towards cloud-based content distribution and storage. OK fine, but we have PDF: aren’t we done? The blog post from from Jani Patokallio that inspired this series suggested that “for your regular linear fiction novel, or even readable tomes of non-fiction, a no-frills PDF does the job just fine”. In this second part I take a hard look at PDF’s shortcomings as a generalized portable document format. These limitations inspired EPUB in the first place and are in my opinion fatal handicaps in the post-paper era. Is it crazy to imagine that a format as widely-adopted as PDF could be relegated to legacy status? Read on and let me know what you think.

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Portable Documents for the Open Web (Part 1)

What role does EPUB play in the cloud-centric world?

Having been involved for over two decades with the intersection of technology and publishing, I’m looking forward to being an occasional writer for the TOC blog. At Joe Wikert’s invitation, I’m starting out with my personal vision for the future of portable documents and the Web, including the relationship between EPUB 3, HTML5 and PDF. This post is the first in a three-part series. Part two can be found here and part three here.

What’s up with HTML5 and EPUB 3? (and, is EPUB even important in an increasingly cloud-centric world?)

EPUB is the well-known open standard XML-based format for eBooks and other digital publications, based on HTML and CSS. EPUB is the primary distribution format for B&N Nook, Kobo, Apple iBooks, Sony Reader, and many other eBook platforms, and is supported by Amazon as an ingestion format for Kindle (whose distribution format is proprietary).

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Neat visualization of download ratios for ebook formats offered by O'Reilly

Neat visualization of download ratios for ebook formats offered by O'Reilly

PDF has competition from EPUB.

We track the ebook formats customers actually download, and from the start PDF has been the dominant choice. But as this post's associated chart shows, there's been a steady shift toward other formats.

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PDF vs. EPUB vs. Mobi Format Download Comparison for oreilly.com

UPDATE: Additional view showing relative volume, rather than percentage. I'm honored to have been elected to the IDPF Board of Directors, and will use the occasion to share some interesting data about download formats from oreilly.com. For most of our titles, we offer three different (DRM-free) formats: PDF, EPUB, and Kindle-compatible Mobipocket. PDF continues to be the most popular format,…

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