O’Reilly’s journey to EPUB 3 – Tools of Change for Publishing

We at O’Reilly are very pleased to announce that we have officially upgraded to EPUB 3, and ebook bundles purchased from oreilly.com will now include EPUB 3 files, in addition to Mobi and PDF files. All O’Reilly ebooks released in 2013 are now available in EPUB 3 format, and in the coming weeks, we will be updating and rereleasing our backlist ebooks in EPUB 3 as well.

But while we’re excited to share this news, this article is not merely a press release. The decision of when and how to upgrade to EPUB 3 has been challenging for many in the publishing community, and it has been a long journey for O’Reilly as well. I’d like to talk more about why we chose to take this step now, what additional value we believe EPUB 3 provides to our customers, and the challenges and tradeoffs we’ve tackled in making our EPUBs backward compatible with EPUB 2 platforms.

It’s been more than a year since the EPUB 3 specification was first approved by the IDPF (it was released in October of 2011). Which begs the question, “Why the one-year delay to adopt EPUB 3?” or less politely, “What took you so long?” The answer is that upgrading to EPUB 3 is not a trivial undertaking, nor is it one that can be reasonably taken unilaterally. To successfully produce and deliver EPUB 3 as part of a ebook program, there are two key prerequisites: having the necessary workflows and tools in place to create EPUB files compliant with the EPUB 3.0 specification, and having ereader platforms available that formally support the 3.0 format. As of early 2012, neither of these preconditions was met, but in the past year, there has been much progress on both fronts. Here are some key milestones:

CSS template

A basic CSS template provides a starting point for ePub design. The following CSS contains classes, properties, and values to cover basic book manuscript elements.

Edit as needed for your design needs.

Mix and match for your design preferences. Note: {text-indent:0em;} has been included in case the .epub file is pushed through Kindle Previewer.

ePub Author Question – What Are the Parts of an ePub File?

Let’s open up the hood and see what’s inside an ePub.

The first thing to know is that an ePub file is actually a compressed collection of files, just like a .zip file. In fact, if you make a copy of an ePub file and change the ePub’s file extension from .epub to .zip, you would have the following .zip file that can be unzipped to extract the contents so we can view them:

An ePub file and a copy of the file with the file extension changed from .epub to .zip

EPUB – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

EPUB (short for electronic publication; alternatively capitalized as ePub, ePUB, EPub, or epub, with “EPUB” preferred by the vendor) is a free and open e-book standard by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Files have the extension .epub.

EPUB is designed for reflowable content, meaning that an EPUB reader can optimize text for a particular display device. EPUB also supports fixed-layout content. The format is intended as a single format that publishers and conversion houses can use in-house, as well as for distribution and sale. It supersedes the Open eBook standard.

Portable Documents for the Open Web (Part 3)

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.

EPUB 3 facts and forecasts

In an article posted a few days ago I shared the first part of an email exchange between Bill McCoy of the IDPF and Sanders Kleinfeld of O’Reilly. They were debating the merits of HTML5 and EPUB 3. In the second of this three-part series they dig deeper into the capabilities of EPUB 3 and what the future of this format might look like:

Bill: It seems to me that your argument amounts to (to paraphrase): “EPUB 2 is good enough for plain text, everything else can and should be a web app, so let’s not bother with EPUB 3″. That’s not an entirely new argument, but I’m a bit surprised to hear it from you.

Sanders: I definitely did imply this, and I really wish I hadn’t, because at its heart, EPUB 3 *is a web app*; it’s just packaged according to a specific standard. I have absolutely no qualms about the feature set EPUB 3 was designed to support, and I think those features are exactly what is needed to do Category 2 digital content.

Publication Standards Part 2: A Standard Future

It’s never been a better time to be a reader. We’re partly defined by the things we read, so it’s good to have an embarrassment of enriching, insightful writing on our hands. We hold hundreds of books in lightweight, portable e-readers. We talk to authors over Facebook and Twitter. Thousands of public domain works are available for free, and blogs afford us a staggering array of high-quality writing. Long-form journalism and analysis is experiencing a minor renaissance, and we’re finding new ways to discuss the things we read.

It’s never been a better time to be a writer. Anybody can publish their thoughts. Anybody can write a book and publish it on demand. Authors can reach out to readers, and enriching, fulfilling conversations can blossom around the connections we develop out of the things we make.

But we have considerable work ahead. Our ebook reading and creation tools are primitive, nascent, born of necessity, and driven by fear. We have one-click ePub to Kindle conversion, but it’s buried in a clumsy, bloated, cross-platform application that screams for improvement.

Publication Standards Part 1: The Fragmented Present

Since technically we all work in publishing, it makes sense to turn our collective attention to the technical and logistic challenges of ebooks. They are a new frontier, but it looks a lot like the old web frontier, with HTML, CSS, and XML underpinning the main ebook standard, ePub.

There are key distinctions between ebook publishing’s current problems and what the web standards movement faced. The web was founded without an intent to disrupt any particular industry; it had no precedent, no analogy. E-reading antagonizes a large, powerful industry that’s scared of what this new way of reading brings—and they’re either actively fighting open standards or simply ignoring them.

Currently, there are scant few resources to learn how to build ePub documents—the latest version of the ePub standard isn’t fully implemented on any modern e-reader. And the most popular e-reading platforms still encumber their work in DRM, which hurts sales and hinders long-term archiving.