Monday, July 12, 2010

Is ePub, ePub or ePub?

We are only just really starting to get into the interoperable digital world we all seek but already cracks are surfacing and more importantly it is not difficult to envisage some further issues moving forward. Unfortunately we are not all experts in the detail, nor are many experts across the full range of issues and technologies and most importantly the experts often miss the commercial and cultural aspects in their search for technical utopia.

Yesterday I was sitting in our Pune office in India when I received an email which I am not saying is right or wrong only that the author is someone who I respect when it comes to digital file manipulation. His objective was to highlight that ePUB for iPad is different from ePUB for ADE and SonyReader and raise some areas for consideration. The mail was quiet detailed and extensive so I have just listed some of the issues raised.

1. The ePUB for the iPad needs a new-standard CSS for iPad-ePUB which will generically apply colour for Part/Chapter/Sections/Noteboxes/CodeListing and others. Fairly straightforward but not required until colour was delivered.
2. Image/Graphic format: iPad-ePUB supports JPG and PNG formats, but PNG (transparent) is recommended. Transparency of images helps’ if a coloured Notebox has an inline equation then image will not render white-patch of inline equation image.
3.The graphic dimension requirement is different for as images which occupy 25% or 40% of the page need more scaling as compared to Sony/ADE. This applies to cover dimension too.
3. Special Character support is extensive for iPad-ePUB as compared to ADE and SonyReader. This means that the iPad can render more characters as text as opposed to image.
5. iPad-ePUB does not work on XSL-stylesheet as ADE and SonyReader does. iPad-ePUB entirely works on CSS.

Although iPad-ePUB can be viewed on ADE but will not display colour enhancements in SonyReader (because of its grey screen). We can’t assure 100% cross-compatibility of ePUB between iPad and ADE/Sony, as the owner of respective specifications also don’t claim this cross-compatibility.

We already have DRM diversion as Apple, Amazon and Adobe go their separate ways. We still have multiple format s with Amazon, Blio, epub, Apple epub, Adobe ebook and obviously these will develop different versions and be open to different interpretations.

What we need to remember is that its not just the consumer that is faced with the question of interoperability but also the publisher and aggregator who has to hold and maintain them. Someone who invested early in digital files may now have to revisit these in order tomake them comply with the new demands. The recent change from 1.03 to 1.05 version of epub is a classic example of such a change.

The one thing we all want is interoperability.


Anonymous said...

Just to prove your point, it's impossible to tell what you're actually talking about here. I assume iBooks, but it's not the only app on the iPad that you can use to read epubs. And they'll, of course, generally look pretty different from iBooks to BN ereader to ibis to stanza to etc.

Martyn Daniels said...

iam afraid that you are correct in that some readers require the content to conform to certain rules if the content is to deplay correctly. There are many ways in which standards can be interpretated and some will make clear statements of preferance.

If we talk about straight textual content with no extras in form of pictures or fonts the difference is small and often not any issue but if we have rich content then these issues increase in their relevance.

Its about format, reader, encryption, device and we can't presume apples equal apples and the same file is equal across all.

Mike Perry said...

The issue of cross-platform compatibility illustrates what publishers & distributors might find far more helpful for preventing piracy than the miseries of DRM. They could offer purchasers online libraries with a 'buy once, own forever' policy. Buy a legit copy, you always own a legit copy.

A book bought for an iPad with iBooks 1.0 may not display well two years from now on iBooks 2.0, much less whatever reader Sony, Amazon, or B&N is selling then. As it stands now, a customer is out of luck when their hardware/software changes or when they forget to move that file from their old computer to a new one. Having purchased books always available online would be a great benefit.

This approach is similar to what Steve Jobs said when he announced the first iPod: Your time is worth something. Why spend an hour trying to find a decent quality illegal download of a song when you can buy it legally for 99 cents and download it in seconds?

Right now, buying legal means more hassle with DRM than an illegal copy and often still more hassle with Kindle or iPad only formats. Buying legally will never be cheaper than free, but it could be easier and more useful enough to customers to make the cost worthwhile.

What could be better than knowing that every digital book you've ever bought is waiting for you online any time you want it?