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EPUB 3 Becomes Final IDPF Specification—Poised to Unleash an Econtent Revolution
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Posted On November 3, 2011


If you think that developments in ebooks and the e-reading experience have been hitting at a fast pace, get ready for it to get really exciting. A new specification has been approved that should accelerate the progress toward richer experiences. On Oct. 11, 2011, at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) announced the completion of a major revision to EPUB, which has become the global standard interchange and delivery format for ebooks and other digital publications. The IDPF membership unanimously voted to elevate EPUB 3 to a final IDPF Recommended Specification, which is publicly available at http://idpf.org/epub/30.

EPUB 3 was chartered in May 2010 and developed by a global working group of more than 100 contributors, reaching Proposed Recommendation status in May 2011. The standard has been collaboratively developed and is a fully open standard. Based on HTML5, EPUB 3 adds support for rich media (audio, video), interactivity (JavaScript), global language support (including vertical writing), styling and layout enhancements, SVG (scalable vector graphics), embedded fonts, expanded metadata facilities, MathML, and synchronization of audio with text and other enhancements for accessibility. The expectation is that EPUB 3 will be used for a range of content, including books, magazines, and educational, professional, and scientific publications.

With EPUB 3, publishers should be able to create content once and then reuse it in many ways. It means they won’t have to re-author their content for multiple devices or to comply with accessibility standards.

The DAISY Consortium, which develops, maintains, and promotes international DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) Standards, played an integral part in the development of EPUB 3, ensuring that accessibility features are woven through its entire fabric—not just tacked on. A key feature is the navigation document that allows readers to quickly and efficiently move through the structure of the book. Support for synchronized audio and text is enabled through Media Overlays, providing the reading experience already enjoyed by the many readers of DAISY Digital Talking Books around the world.

O’Reilly Media, in collaboration with the IDPF, has released a free (registration required) white paper “What Is EPUB 3?” authored by EPUB 3 spec editor Matt Garrish. The O’Reilly site explains, “‘What Is EPUB 3?’ discusses the exciting new format that is set to unleash a content revolution in the publishing world. Laden with features the printed page could never offer—such as embedded multimedia and scripted interactivity—EPUB 3 will forever change what a book can be. This article walks you through the format and puts it in its place in the digital landscape, explaining why EPUB 3 is set to become the new global standard for ebooks as it also becomes the new accessible standard for ebooks.”

See also the excellent article by Bill Kasdorf, vice president of Apex Content Solutions and a member of the EPUB 3 Working Group, “EPub 3: Not Your Father’s EPUB.”

You can view a video of an EPUB sample developed by AEL Data using HTML5 and EPUB3 here.

The IDPF is the global trade and standards organization for the digital publishing industry. IDPF is responsible for EPUB, and it organizes industry conferences and workshops. The IDPF is a not-for-profit organization with more than 200 members, comprising publishers, vendors, libraries, and organizations from more than 25 countries. For more information, visit http://idpf.org.

EPUB 3 features have already been delivered by a number of reading systems and content authoring tools. Now that EPUB 3 is a final specification, superseding EPUB 2.0.1 as the current version of EPUB, the IDPF anticipates that comprehensive EPUB 3 support will be forthcoming from a number of solution providers during the coming year. Users will be happy to learn that the specification has also been crafted with backward compatibility of content.

“EPUB has become the industry standard format for digital publications based on Web Standards that are structured, reliable, device-independent, and accessible,” said Bill McCoy, executive director, IDPF. “As digital publications evolve from digitized text into enhanced ebooks and new forms of expression, EPUB 3 will dramatically expand the ability of authors and publishers to deliver richer experiences to their readers across disparate devices, in browsers, and in apps.”

There will still likely be some hurdles along the way. Paul Topping commented on the TeleRead blog about one possibility:

I see a lot of buzz on Twitter and the blogosphere that assume that because EPUB 3 supports things like SVG, JavaScript, and MathML, that ebook readers will support them, even if they claim EPUB 3 compatibility. The same goes for actual ebooks. For example, a mathematics or physics etextbook might be provided in EPUB 3 format and still have its equations embedded as bitmap images, thereby making them inaccessible, uncopyable, and unsearchable. Consumers (and bloggers that influence them) will have to learn to recognize and request these features. This is going to be a controversial and problematic area for years to come. My hope is that organizations will establish quality standards that address this.

The development of enhanced ebooks could also bring some interesting changes within the publishing industry. Here’s an interesting scenario from Julien Simon, CEO and founder of Walrus Books, when interviewed by O’Reilly Radar:

Jobs are evolving—they require more flexibility and new knowledge. … There are more tools than ever, both for the publisher and the writer. You now have to consider pictures, audio, video, game play, etc., as new ways to tell a story. … To some extent, the book-reading experience will be more like watching a movie, playing a video game and using the Internet. When working on a book project, not only will a publisher and a writer sit at the publishing meeting table, but they’ll be joined by a sound designer, a scriptwriter, a director, etc. The publisher’s job will soon look more like a producer’s job.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

Email Paula J. Hane

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