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Moving Toward an Ebook Standard
Posted On December 19, 2013
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The question of why other vendors have not jumped on board in support of EPUB 3 is not a simple matter. There are two aspects to EPUB 3 support: A vendor’s software and reading system need to support the rendering of content in EPUB 3, and a vendor’s ebookstore needs to be able to ingest and process the content contained in the EPUB 3 file publishers submit.

For instance, McCoy says that customers can buy EPUB 3 files from a third-party vendor and load them into their Kobo device. But they cannot buy an EPUB 3 file from the Kobo ebookstore because Kobo’s ingestion engine does not support the format, so publishers can’t submit ebooks in that format to Kobo. Amazon is the opposite: Its devices don’t display EPUB files readers try to load themselves, but customers can purchase EPUB 3 files from its website.

When Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire tablet, Ashlem says the industry was buzzing about whether it could compete with Apple’s iPad. People were disappointed when the Fire wasn’t equipped to handle all of EPUB 3’s features, such as embedded video. “As the new generation of readers come into play, they really are looking for much more interactivity and much more enhancements,” and device companies will have to acknowledge that, she says.

Mark Gross, DCL’s president and CEO, says it’s not unusual for technology to take a few years to catch up with a standard. “Building a reader to be able to handle math very well, handle languages [and other EPUB 3 capabilities] is not so easy to do. So it’s taking a while. This all takes investment.”

Gross suspects there will be gradual acceptance of different facets of the standard. He feels that at some point device companies will see that moving to EPUB 3 is important for their markets. That means other companies will soon follow in Apple’s footsteps.

Ashlem says the industry is “definitely seeing a move to support EPUB 3, but it’s not as fast as the community wants it to be.”

International Perspectives

There is wider adoption of EPUB 3 internationally, thanks in part to the standard’s support for vertical writing. Kobo’s Japanese ebookstore has been accepting and distributing only EPUB 3 files since last July. Japanese publishers are sending all of their content to Amazon in EPUB 3 format, and Amazon’s ingestion process in its Japanese ebookstore is EPUB 3-centric, says McCoy.

Idan notes that e-reading is not very popular in Israel. “Though Israel is very quick in adopting new technologies—we have many people here with smartphones and many people with tablets—we don’t see many people here reading books on reading systems like the Amazon Kindle, because Kindle doesn’t support Hebrew.” An Israeli publisher created a Hebrew-specific device similar to a Kindle, but Idan says it was not a hit with consumers because its functionality was limited.

Helicon Books is working to change the situation, Idan says. It recently released a free EPUB 3 reading app with a Hebrew user interface on Google Play that allows users to purchase ebooks from participating digital bookstores and download them directly into the app.

What’s Next

Idan believes that EPUB 2 will remain in use for fiction and other books read from beginning to end, while EPUB 3 will become the standard for textbooks.

“EPUB 2 isn’t going away any time soon,” Tallent agrees. He says “authors and small publishers who don’t necessarily have tools or skills in-house to handle it” will take longer to adopt the newer standard.

“EPUB is a great standard, and it should be applied across the majority of devices. But when it comes down to it, we have a huge amount of difference from device to device because there aren’t, in some ways, stricter requirements for what an EPUB device has to support,” says Tallent. “This is better in EPUB 3 than it has been in EPUB 2, but we’re still going to see differences.”

McCoy is optimistic that EPUB 3 will be the standard format that publishers can send anywhere for distribution. He foresees a more universal acceptance of EPUB 3 files within the next 6 months.

Gross also predicts a shift in the industry within 6 months. “It might be that there are two standards: the Kindle [e-ink] approach of ‘just keep it simple’ and the EPUB 3 approach of ‘we want lots of sophisticated functionality,’” he says.

The IDPF continues to work on enhancements to the EPUB format. McCoy says the next version of EPUB aims to standardize markup for dictionaries and indexes, create a more advanced layout for digital magazines, and standardize annotations.

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Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By Dana Levy12/25/2013 4:48:39 PM

Just wabted to correct Mr. Idan about the Kindle ability to read RTL languages. I'm reading Hebrew ebooks on my Kindle Paperwite and it's working like a charm.
By the way, I was also able to read the regular Hebrew epub books (not the epub 3) on my iPad, so I don't really understand the big issue with this "new Language support feature" of epub3. Eventually, it depends on the reading device.
Posted By LEONARD FELDMAN12/23/2013 1:27:22 PM

As late as last year, Bill McCoy was defending Apple's, Barnes & Noble's and Kobo's practices of adding proprietary extensions to EPUB 2 in order to support audio, video and animation. The IDPF, the organization that McCoy runs, allows anyone to implement any subset or superset of EPUB and still call it EPUB-compatible. At the time that Apple introduced iBooks Author and its own incompatible version of EPUB, some industry observers warned that Apple would stay with its format instead of adopting EPUB 3.
Posted By Brandi Scardilli12/23/2013 9:15:54 AM

I agree that DRM poses a problem for creating a unified standard because locked-down versions of EPUB persist. But EPUB 3 is becoming the favorite format in terms of what publishers can submit to ebook vendors and what ebook vendors sell in their ebookstores, so in that sense it’s becoming an industry standard.
Posted By Cassie Blaze12/23/2013 1:38:22 AM

You forgot Adobe's two (not always compatible) locked-down proprietary formats. As long as EPUB is a maze of twisty little DRM scams, none alike, it will never be a "standard". How could it be when the book you bought from Apple won't open on your Nook, the book you bought from B&N won't open on your Sony, and the one you bought from Sony won't open in iBooks?
Posted By Mike Withheld12/19/2013 2:30:48 PM

I've decided that epub3 is not the future. Why take a great feature full format like html5, complicate it and then force users to use readers with inconsistent results when reading it locally in a browser is so much better?

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