Ebook, e-book, eBook: Toward a Fulsome #eprdctn Terminology

Editor’s Note: Ebook, e-book, or eBook? I’m certainly guilty of using the latter. Today’s guest post from Laura Brady looks at the words and acronyms we use (and shouldn’t use).

The ePub world is full of confusing lingo that developers flippantly toss off like we’ve been working in this space for decades. The truth is the ebook world is very new and, as such, naming conventions are still in flux. In this article I will attempt some consensus on the words we use to describe our work with a view to working toward some standards.


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How to Convert your ePub to a Kindle Format

One of the most common questions I get asked when people start making ebooks is “Do I really need to create two separate files? One for Kindle and another for everyone else?” And then they usually ask if it takes twice as long :)

This isn’t a silly question. Anyone that looks at the files that publishers provide to readers can see there are two different file formats: .epub and .mobi. But just what is the difference, and why do we need both?

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How to Build a Device Library Without Taking Out a Loan

There’s little more frustrating then hearing through a client that a reader is complaining about how a file looks on some device. And more often than not its some obscure Kobo or Android device.

There are probably 25 e-readers on the market, all with their own rendering and UX bugs. Except for large publishing and development offices, its financially burdensome to be expected to buy all of them the day they’re available. And yet many clients will expect you to be able to solve all of their problems.

Here’s a couple ways to build a device library on a budget.


One of my favorite places to find used and gently worn e-readers is on eBay. In the past I’ve gotten current version of Kobo and Nook tablets at the current price of last year’s models. I’ve also gotten review copies of devices that were at most used a couple times!

Be very careful to read the descriptions of each device you want to buy. A lot of sellers will post no-longer working devices for cheap. Make sure that whatever you buy has a good refund policy in case the device you buy is dead on arrival.

Kindle Outlet

Arguably, the devices you need most are Kindles. They’re the most popular e-readers and probably have the most unique bugs. A great place to get Kindle devices for cheap is the Kindle Outlet. These are Amazon factory refurbished devices at up to 25% off.

Many other manufacturers also sell refurbished items. I’ll update this as I find more: Apple, B&N

Start a Local Device Exchange

If it’s completely out of the question to purchase 10 devices (if you’re a freelancer, that’s almost certainly the case), your next best step is to get together with some friends and each purchase a few devices, so in total you have everything you might need. This isn’t perfect situation—your friend might be out of town or unresponsive on a day you need something, but if you build in some time it can be a great, inexpensive option.

Some cities have local tech groups or workshops. Some of these groups have device labs (often gained through donations) that will have a variety of devices to check on (more like Android and iOS devices, but they might have a Kindle Fire or something). Development agencies and design studios in your city might also be able to help (but you’ll likely need a personal connection to get an in).

#eprdctn Community

In the past I’ve been in some binds and have reached out the the #eprdctn community on Twitter to ask for quick screenshots of how things render on a specific device. Don’t expect a quick turnaround, but sometimes you’ll luck out.

Editing EPUBs in the post-Sigil world

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Anthony Levings, who runs the SketchyTech blog. Today he has a look at the bumpy post-Sigil environment for EPUB creators.

The Sigil editor was not used by everyone in the #eprdctn world and there are those who wouldn’t admit to doing so in public even if behind the scenes they used it to fix things up once in a while. The truth is, however, that with its official demise  it marks yet another #eprdctn tool that has failed to move from EPUB 2 to EPUB 3.

As commonly happens with small open source projects, the weight of development ended up falling on the shoulders of one person, and no doubt the overwhelming task of deciding how to handle the many facets of EPUB 3 forced the development to a standstill.

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Break Kindle and iBooks Rendering With This One Little Trick

It seems hard to believe, but sometimes I still come across ereader bugs that just make me really scratch my head. Here’s just one of them.

Applying a width of 100% to the <body> element is a very common CSS style (it’s often done to ensure that when you set a width of 100% on any element inside a <body> tag that it consistently will be the full width of the page across all devices). It’s so common I have it in my reset when I design websites. So imagine my surprise when I discovered what it was doing to rendering on 4th/5th gen kindles (the non-Paperwhite one—that’s how we have to describe it, right?).


Bad, Worse, Worst.

Bad, Worse, Worst.

It seems that this device has decided that a <body> element with a width of 100% should be the width of the device’s screen, not the width of the display inside the margins, causing the text to be wider than the visible area and cropping it (it’s really obvious that that’s the problem when you change the margins to their widest setting, like I did on the far right). Even crazier still is that the <html> element width will be correct, but the <body> element will be wider. This is all sorts of confusing for so many reasons.

Just to be safe, I looked at it on a Paperwhite to be sure I wasn’t crazy. Nope, just fine.


The same file on a Paperwhite. No cut off text!

So of course I thought this was just one of those crazy Kindle bugs they tend to have. And then I saw what happened in iBooks.


On the left, a file with body 100% width; on the right without it

On the left, a file with body 100% width; on the right without it

This isn’t nearly as bad as the Kindle (it cuts off no more than a letter), and could just be a mathematic rounding error, but it’s still confounding (and it works fine in iBooks for Mavericks, so it’s certainly a bug). How do these bugs get by these companies? Really, no one added a width of 100% on <body> elements in books before? And no one used it in testing files? This is why eBook developers can’t create nice things without tearing their hair out.

Until this gets resolved, its pretty clear we should all avoid applying width: 100% on <body> elements.

Want to play around with this yourself? I’ve added a zip of ePub and mobi files here. Included are working and broken versions—the only difference is the inclusion of the body {width: 100%;} line in the css file.

(And yep, this is filed on 99 problems here.) 

InDesign forums now have a dedicated ePub forum

Great news for ePub creators who use InDesign to create their ePub files. At Anne-Marie’s and other Adobe InDesign forum member’s request, forum admin Bob Levine has just set up an InDesign subforum dedicated to ePub discussions!

Visit the InDesign – EPUB forum here and post away: http://forums.adobe.com/community/indesign/indesign_epub?view=discussions

Don’t forget that InDesignSecrets.com also has a dedicated EPUB and eBooks forum that gets a fair amount of traffic as well! You can find that here: http://indesignsecrets.com/forum/epub-and-ebook


99 Problems

99 ePub rendering problems on the  wall
take one down, pass it around
98 ePub rendering problems on the wall

Easily the most frustrating part of designing and developing ePub projects, the various rendering issues on each and every device or app can create an enormous amount of headaches. Despite the standards set forth by ePub3 we’re still a long way off from consistent rendering on each and every device.

One big reason is that none of these rendering systems are open source (unlike the majority of web browsers). Because of this, there’s no one single place to see if a rendering bug exists, and—if so—how or if it has been fixed (see the WebKit issue tracker to see how web browsers handle this).  Without any of the major e-retailers taking the lead on this, I’ve decided to try to give it a go.

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Fixed Layout ePubs and InDesign

Douglas Waterfall, senior InDesign engineer/architect/epub nerd, has a Twitter account that he barely uses. He’s tweeted only twelve times, at the time of this writing. So when he tweets, it means he’s motivated.

Last week, he tweeted this:

Let me translate that for you:

EPUB 3 = Current standard for valid e-book files, supported by most eReaders, and allows for much more interactivity, rich media, and designer control than EPUB 2.

FXL = Fixed Layout (ePub), a subcategory of EPUB 3 eBooks that acts and looks less like a web page and more  like a PDF on an eReader. Essentially, layout of each of the book’s pages is exactly how the designer laid it out in InDesign. Many kid’s books, cookbooks, and photo books are done as FXL. Currently supported by iPad’s iBooks, Kindle Fire and HD, and Kobo devices.

Pre-release = Adobe’s beta program, where volunteer users (who sign a non-disclosure agreement) get access to upcoming versions of the software to test on their own computers with their own files, and report back what’s working, what’s not, and what would be nice to have.

If you can put one and one and one together, and you’re interested in helping this come to fruition, then by all means, use the email address that Douglas included in his tweet and volunteer!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering . . .

#eprdctn = Douglas included this hashtag to ensure it’d appear in the Twitter stream of anyone following the #eprdctn (short for eBook Production) hashtag. You can see the live Twitter stream here, even if you don’t have a Twitter account: https://twitter.com/hashtag/eprdctn. The #eprdctn denizens are ebook designers and developers and vendors from around the world who trade tips, gripes, and breaking news with each other. No need to follow individuals, if a tweet includes this hashtag, and you’re following the hashtag, you’ll see what they wrote.




Use Typekit Fonts in iBooks Author Projects

Typekit, the popular web font provider, has recently been moving to allow embedding of some of their fonts in InDesign and InDesign-generated projects like ePubs and DPS apps.

But what about iBooks Author? After some back and forth between Tina Henderson, our own Anne-Marie, and Typekit, it was resolved. Typekit now embeds fonts in iBooks Author projects correctly.