Buyer's Guide: The State of Ebooks in 2014
Fixed Layout vs. Reflowable
Another important development has been the ability of ebooks to work for content that requires a high level of design, like children's books, cookbooks, and coffee table books. The advent of tablets suddenly made it possible for those books to work as ebooks without sacrificing their graphic sophistication.
The EPUB standard and many ebook platforms and apps enable "fixed layout" books to be rendered beautifully on tablets. It is also possible with EPUB 3 to design reflowable books that have very sophisticated typography and design on devices that can display complex pages (like tablets and laptops) while using techniques like fallbacks and media queries to adapt to smaller screens like those on phones. This "responsive design" now enables publishers to create a single EPUB 3 that can be optimized for larger screens while adapting to small ones.
The Emerging Consensus on Standards
The slow and fragmentary implementation of EPUB 3 established an unfortunate "wait and see" attitude among publishers. Well, stop waiting and start seeing: EPUB 3 works for most books on most of the leading ebook readers and platforms. Behind this is a long-awaited consensus on the underlying technologies that ebook technologies are built on. This foundation is enabling continual innovation based on open standards and interoperability. As mentioned above, the vast majority of ebook readers and systems are now based on EPUB 3. And EPUB itself is based on the Open Web Platform, the 100-some standards (HTML, XML, CSS, SVG, MathML, etc.) that are governed by the W3C.
The W3C itself has launched a "Digital Publishing Interest Group" to explore how the Open Web Platform can be improved to meet the needs of publishers. And EPUB 3 itself continues to evolve. The EPUB 3.0.1 update is in the final stages of approval, as is the new spec for EPUB Indexes. Work on EPUB dictionaries and glossaries is moving ahead. The Advanced Hybrid Layout (AHL) Working Group is developing specifications for enabling books like comics, manga, and graphic novels (as well as magazines) to be optimized as EPUB. As mentioned above, the EDUPUB profile for EPUB will be a huge enabler for e-textbooks. And the IDPF is working with the W3C on the issue of Open Annotations, which will enable things like highlighting and comments to be done in an open, non-proprietary way so they can be exchanged between systems.