Tag Archives: ePub

“Radical” changes in EPUB 3.1

A change after a version number’s decimal point is usually minor or moderate, but the creators of the EPUB 3.1 draft at IDPF call their changes from 3.01 “radical.”
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EpubCheck 4.0

EPUB is the favorite format for e-books (ignoring Amazon, which like to be incompatible so it can lock users in). EpubCheck is the open-source industry standard for validating EPUB files. If you’re an author creating your own e-book files, you should run them against EpubCheck before releasing them. It’ll make hosting sites happier, since they’ll probably run it themselves and will like your book better if it passes. A book that passes EpubCheck will also give you fewer headaches with readers complaining it doesn’t work on their reader.
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Concerns with Apple’s iBooks Author

Apple’s iBooks textbooks for iPad stakes a position against openness in e-book publishing.

The format of the books is not a standard EPub format. The only tool that can create this format is Apple’s iBooks Author, and the only application that can view it is iBooks. An article on Ars Technica reports that it uses “ePub 2 along with certain HTML5 and JavaScript-based extensions that Apple uses to enable multimedia and interactive features. Those interactive features will only work with Apple’s iBooks app, not with other e-reader software or hardware, because only Apple supports those extensions.”

A post on Glazblog (the author says he’s “Co-chairman of the W3C CSS Working Group”; it would be nice if he gave his name) gives technical details. It uses XML namespaces that aren’t publicly documented, a nonstandard MIME type, and a private CSS extension.

This means you can’t view the books on anything but iOS. If Apple ever drops support for the format, it’s obsolete and impossible to support.

On top of this, the EULA for iBooks Author restricts sale of books created with it to the Apple Store. You can give away your books by any channel you like, but if you sell them, you must use the Apple Store. This means that if Apple doesn’t accept your book for publication, you can’t sell it in that format. (Except maybe in France, as Glazblog amusingly notes.) This is like having a compiler that lets you create software which you may sell only through Petitmol, or a video application that forbids you from selling your movies through anyone but FooTube. I can’t think of a precedent for this.

Authors normally would like to be able to take a book to a different publisher if their previous one loses interest. With books created with iBooks Author, you can’t do that, for both technical and legal reasons. The format isn’t under DRM, though, and the exclusivity applies to the format, not the content. As far as I can tell, you should be able to extract most of the content and republish it in a different format.

Apple’s restrictions make iBooks textbooks unsuitable for assignment to classes, unless the school is willing to give every student an iPad. Those who use other devices would be left out in the cold.

Apart from the restrictions, does Apple’s new format offer anything exciting? My own reaction, from briefly looking at a few sample books on a co-worker’s iPad, is that the interactive graphics are attention-getting, but the most important form of “interactivity” with a textbook is trying things out on your own — playing with the equations, writing sentences in the language, whatever. The best accessory for that is still a pencil and paper.