EPUB 3: Exciting Possibilities
When you hear the expression "EPUB 3" perhaps you think:
- It's the next version of a distribution and interchange format specification/standard for digital publications and documents; or
- you groan because you think it's another e-reader hardware that you need to be aware of.
Either way you REALLY need to an article by Bill Kasdorf, published in the Information Standards Quarterly. Bill's article is a report on the work done by the working group to develop EPUB 3. (By the way, the correct answer is "1".)
His day jobs are VP of Apex Content Solutions and General Editor of The Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing. And, oh yeah, he's one of the smartest people I know.
I'll provide some (hopefully) useful context, pull some highlights from the article and add my comments. But in case I forgot to mention it, it's worth a little piece of your busy time to read the whole article.
First, some context for those who don't live and breathe this stuff. EPUB is maintained by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). It's a non-profit trade association, with over 200 members from over 20 countries. It represents a broad swath of publishers, tech companies, device manufacturers, etc.—all of whom need or want to see e-publishing function well.
EPUB defines a way to represent, package and encode structured and semantically enhanced Web content—including HTML5, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources—for distribution in a single-file format. We have all very quickly developed expectations for what we want from the net—including video, audio, simulations embedded seamlessly. Unfortunately, there are many different technologies floating around. Some are incompatible, some are proprietary ... did someone say, "what about a standard?"
EPUB provides a clearer path to consistency. The hardware and software know what they're getting and what it needs to do with the file. It creates an open standard "similar to those from the W3C."
The current version of EPUB is 2.0.1. IPDF created a working group to move forward with version 3. It's a very large group, 170 members, that represented all those groups mentioned above, plus it got input from others not officially included. Kasdorf was head of the Metadata Subgroup, and was also active in the full group.
Some highlights from the article:
- EPUB 3 is designed to accommodate a much wider range of publishing, including more extensive metadata-like video.
- Designed to "enable and facilitate conformance with standards for accessibility."
- While EPUB 3 must be based on HTML5 and CSS3, HTML5 is not expected to be formally recommended by the W3C until 2014. This leaves time for change, so EPUB3 commits to stay in sync with HTML5 and CSS3.
- EPUB 3 will be backwards compatible with EPUB 2.0.1.
- MathML given first class status.
- Expanded metadata capabilities.
- Capability to design rich layouts, allowing complex books as EPUB files to take advantage of tablets.
Okay, okay that's a lot detail but what does it all mean? I think it means the possibility of a glimmer of a hope of a significant change in how we create/distribute content.
EPUB3 could provide something resembling a real specification/standard that is missing now. Also, just as big is the possibility of creating files for the tablet. Forget about all the fun/cool stuff your iPad does, think about the possibilities for textbooks and all kinds of educational content. Being able to "just" create a file instead of creating an app is a huge potential change.
We'll see what the future actually holds with this, but the potential seems to be there for a significant shift.
My last blog was all about the creation of physical products, this one is all about the creation of electronic products. This is the world we live in. Ain't it interesting?
He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.
In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.