Interactivity in ebooks

Here’s a timely piece by Justin Putney of Ajar Productions (the in5 developer). There’s an exciting demo (scroll down) and a request from Justin for ideas from developers to bring interactivity to InDesign and then to EPUB (there’s a link to a short survey).  Justin will be hosting #eprdctn hour next Wednesday, August 5.


Hi, my name is Justin Putney. I’m co-founder of Ajar Productions. We make tools for designers and publishers, including our most popular product, in5, which exports interactive HTML5 from InDesign.

For the past three years, I’ve been focused on the best ways to get interactivity out of InDesign via in5. While at PePcon, I was inspired by a conversation with Mira Rubin to focus on getting more interactivity into InDesign, so that ePUB authors (and others) can easily add interactivity to their projects.

Currently, the tools within InDesign are quite limited when it comes to creating interactivity and distributing to an ePUB. The Folio Overlays, used to create interactive elements like self-running slideshows for Adobe DPS, do not work in ePUB. Animation imported from Edge Animate is a great way to add some flair to a project, but it cannot be viewed in iBooks on iOS. So if you’re not currently a fluent coder, your options for interactivity are limited. That’s what we’d like to fix.

In the video, you’ll see the prototype that I showed at PePcon, which can import interactive HTML that works in an ePUB.

We’re currently testing the ability to add HTML from anywhere, as well as having the option of inserting configurable widgets (like iBooks Author has).

What this means for you

This could help you add interactive items to your reflowable and fixed-layout projects.

  • Quizzes and Surveys
  • Image Galleries
  • Slideshows
  • Scrollable Frames
  • Flip cards
  • …and much more

You won’t have to be a programmer or know how to code to use our tool.

What you can do

There are 3 things that you can do to impact and follow this project.

  1. We’d love to get your feedback and find out what’s important to you in your ePUB work. If you want to help shape the direction of our project, please add your input to this short survey.
  2. I’ll also be hosting the #eprdctn Hour on August 5th at 11am EDT/8am PST, if you want to have a live Twitter chat about interactivity and ePUBs.
  3. If you’d like to hear more about this project as it’s being developed, you can subscribe to our newsletter (and get a premium InDesign extension for free).

Thanks for reading and I look forward to chatting with you!

Justin Putney (@justinputney) is a designer, animator, developer, speaker, author (Adobe Press &, Adobe Community Professional, entrepreneur, and minimalist runner. He is also co-founder of ajarproductions.

Animations in children’s fixed-layout books

Today’s #eprdctn hour featured Diane Burns, Kris Vetter, and Laura Brady talking about two approaches to creating animation. Diane explained using InDesign CC, while Kris focused on CSS3 animations. Both had great insight and information.

Be sure to scroll to the end to find links to Kris’s materials (her tweets didn’t all come through to the Storify edition due to a firewall issue).

And check out Diane’s course on creating and exporting animations from Indesign CC.

Next week’s #eprdctn hour (Aug 5 at 11 AM) will continue a focus on animation with Justin Putney. Look for an article from Justin here on tomorrow.

Indexes in ebooks


This is the first installment in a 3-part series on Indexes in ebooks, written by Stephen Ingle, president of WordCo Indexing Services. We’ll publish the final 2 pieces over the next few weeks. Steve will also be a guest on #eprdctn hour on September 9. Please comment below, send in questions, and participate on September 9! Now to Steve:

I love digital non-fiction books, especially history and politics. I love downloading them on the Kindle app on my iPad or my iPhone. But I have a gripe: why is the index often missing in the digital version of the book? I feel like I’ve been shortchanged. I like to see what topics come up in the book, how often they come up, and where the discussion is (i.e., at the beginning, middle, or end of the book). The index (even just a non-hyperlinked image of the print index) provides this. The index also breaks down major topics into subtopics so I can get an overview of how the author treats that topic.

I guess the usual (dare I say ignorant?) response from the publisher is something like this: “The page numbers don’t show up in the digital version, so the index is unusable,” or “Readers can just use Search.” Search works great for simple things (assuming you remember how to spell the name you’re looking for or the author’s particular terminology). But why not include the index, at the very least to help the reader know what to search for?

What exactly is an index anyway? A list of every name or term that comes up in a book? Not really. That would be more of a concordance. Essentially, an index provides an organized overview of the book’s contents. It is not just a search tool to “look something up.” It’s a meta-presentation of what’s in the book. Think about what that means: with a well-constructed and complete index, and enough time, you could pretty much reconstruct the gist of the book, in page order. Just add water!

An index is a beautiful thing. It adds value to the book. I would argue that indexes are not only still relevant, there are all kinds of ways they could take advantage of the digital milieu to improve the reader’s experience. At a minimum, index headings would be hyperlinked to the text. But why not use colors and typefaces to indicate relative importance or different categories of headings? And, since we’re dreaming, why not have collapsible headings that can be expanded with a touch? Why not enable some kind of user input, perhaps “searching” the index for certain types of headings (all people, perhaps, or all companies in a business-related book)?

Clearly, there’s lots of “potential.” Then why do the ebooks we see with indexes either have a “dead” (i.e., non-hyperlinked) index, or, at best, a hyperlinked version of the print index?

The answer is simple. It’s not only that it’s not feasible given the technology (there certainly are issues with differences between devices and platforms that render ebook files differently). There are two real reasons we don’t see a push for more and better ebook indexes: production costs and time. And since time is money, it’s really all about costs. So that begs the next question: how to adjust workflows to reduce the costs of creating decent (hyperlinked) ebook indexes?

First of all, let’s start with the basics. A dead index is better than no index. If the print book has an index, at the very least the ebook should include it, even if it’s not hyperlinked. That doesn’t cost anything. And it doesn’t leave the reader (me) feeling cheated.

But can we have even a basic hyperlinked index that’s not going to cost more, or at least not more than a nominal amount? An index, where if you touch the page locator, you are magically transported to the relevant location in the text? The answer is: “Yes, we’re getting there!” If the ebook file contains page markers (page list in EPUB3; read the IDPF’s guidelines here), it’s really a simple matter to hyperlink the page locators in the index to the actual page locations in the book. More on this next time.

 Coming in Part II: Changing the Ebook Workflow


Stephen Ingle is the president and CEO of WordCo Indexing Services (, located in Norwich, Connecticut.  He created his first index (8 lines) at the age of 10. After graduating from Yale University with a degree in German literature, he went on to earn master’s degrees in German and Russian Area Studies.  In 1988, Steve began freelance indexing part time while also working at the Modern Language Association (MLA) in New York.  He began indexing full time in 1991. Steve has served on the national board of the American Society for Indexing. His company now employs a team of indexers and completes about 500 projects annually for a diverse group of clients.  His interests include indexing as a business and indexes for digital publications.

#eprdctn hour: EPUB3, HTML5 Markup

Colleen Cunningham (@BookDesignGirl) has done a lot (I mean a lot!) of R&D on semantic markup. Here’s the Storify session from today. Make sure you examine her examples closely.

And, if you’re not clear on the meaning of semantics, Colleen gives a cogent, snappy definition (via a few tweets) at the top of the session.

Tune in next week for Joshua Tallent (@jtallent) leading a discussion about dealing with difficult clients and providing good customer service. July 22, 11AM EDT.

If you want to lead a discussion, sign up here:

#eprdctn hour update

Today’s #eprdctn hour on Twitter was a great success. Lots of ideas, lots of participation. No surprise, though: all of the previous sessions have been rollicking.

Today, Tzviya Siegman, Lead of Wiley Digital Book Standards & Capabilities, led a spirited discussion on EPUB standards. She covered organizations that are working to establish and promote standards (BISG, IDPF, W3C), and fiercely advocated for everyone involved in EPUB work to get involved.

Here’s the Storify link to the session, as collated by Laura Brady:

We are collecting all the Storified sessions on the Resources page here at epubsecrets, so stop in if you missed the hour and read your fill.

And don’t forget: Sign up to lead a discussion. All spots are taken until September, so you have plenty of time to prepare.

New eBook publishing features in InDesign CC 2015

Adobe has jut rolled out the Creative Cloud 2015 updates.

Before I go any further, I want to remind anyone who hasn’t upgraded yet to make sure you read this first:

If you speed through the update you’ll wipe the previous versions of CC applications from your drive, and will need to reinstall them. You can avoid that by following the instructions in the link.

Now, what’s new?

There isn’t too much EPUB-specific that’s new in InDesign CC2015, but there are a couple of interesting developments.

Paragraph Shading

Paragraph styles can now include shading behind text, like so:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.01.15 AM


Here’s the applicable Paragraph Styles dialog box:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 9.57.38 AM

(Note that this is an off-the-cuff experiment. I need to get deeper into the dialog box options to see what all the choices affect content.)

Michael Perry, an epubsecrets reader, asked yesterday if this exports to EPUB. A quick test shows the answer is: Yes! Here it is in iBooks:


And, if you’re curious, here’s the CSS that InDesign wrote for the top (blue) paragraph:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.05.32 AM

Publish Online

Publish Online is an exciting feature that Adobe previewed at PePcon in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago. This tool creates a webpage from your InDesign layout.

You can then share your layout with the world without needing to upload or email a PDF. Adobe hosts the HTML, so you can’t get into the markup or code to make any adjustments. That means your layout has to be complete before uploading, and also that you have to send out a new link whenever you make an adjustment to the mechanical.

Here’s a 2-page layout in InDesign:


To export, go to File / Publish Online (Preview)

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.21.33 AM

There are two screens to navigate through, with very basic optionsScreen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.17.50 AM

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.17.54 AM

And that’s it! You can view the document and / or send to Facebook. Needless to say, you can grab the link and send anywhere.Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.18.35 AM

Here’s the result:

How is this useful? I can think of a few instances where I’d use this in a combined print + EPUB workflow:

  • Design in InDesign
  • Circulate comps via Publish Online, doing as many rounds as needed
  • Create and test InDesign-native animations across platforms

When design and production are complete, you have a few options for publishing:

  • PDF for print
  • FXL export from InDesign
  • Reflowable export from InDesign
  • IDML export to bring the design into iBooks Author
  • PDF for Kindle Textbook Creator or Kindle Kids’ Book Creator
  • Website

What are some drawbacks?

  • Adobe hosts the site, so you can’t access the HTML. You’ll want to finish your work before exporting/uploading. This is already true of PDF-based workflows, so should be familiar. But if you’re accustomed to cracking open an EPUB to manipulate the markup or CSS, you might be frustrated.
  • Because Adobe hosts, you can’t do anything with the sites generated from your layouts (like add them to your own personal or business site)
  • Text is converted to outlines, so is not accessible or searchable
  • This is only available in the English-language version of InDesign

As with any brand-new feature, this will grow and change over time. But this is a very interesting step for InDesign users.

Here’s a great rundown of these features and others that InDesign 2015 brings:

Here’s more info on the Creative Cloud in general:


InDesign CC 2015 Released

The entire 2015 Adobe Creative Cloud suite has been released. Some new features:

  • Paragraph Shading
  • Images in table cells
  • Publish Online (Tech Preview, English Only)
  • CC Libraries enhancements
  • – Support for Para and Char styles
  • – Linked Assets : Images, Graphics etc
  • Document Drawing Performance Improvements
  • Integration with Adobe Stock

BUT BEWARE: if you do a clean install, you’ll erase your CC 2014. I always like to keep legacy versions available for clients who haven’t upgraded, and to avoid being stuck in a cycle of almost inevitable early-release problems.

Read this post from InDesignSecrets:

Interactivity in ebooks

Justin Putney, developer of in5 and recent PePcon 2015 speaker, has written a short survey for folks interested in interactivity in ebooks.

Click here to go to the survey.

I saw some great examples of interactive ebooks at PePcon. It’s exciting to push the potential and the possibilities. Do some brainstorming and then take a second to complete Justin’s survey.

For some inspiration, here’s a video from a presentation Justin gave at PePcon.

#eprdctn on Twitter: An Essential Resource

When I first started making ebooks, I found the Twitter feed #eprdctn (either from Anne-Marie Concepción’s Lynda course on Indesign to EPUB or from Liz Castro’s EPUB Straight to the Point). I signed up for Twitter, got my own handle (@BNGObooks), found a friend to follow me, and I was off.

Now, hundreds of followers and followings later, I’m still on Twitter daily, with a bookmark for the #eprdctn gathering.

What happens there? Simply, folks drop in, ask a question, find an answer, blow off steam, share a discovery, make bad jokes, make good jokes. You post a question and, if you’re lucky, get a response quickly. It’s also common to get a response a day later; folks like to go back through the feed and see what they’ve missed if they’ve been away for a day.

What kinds of questions? PDF, InDesign, Illustrator, Word to EPUB and MOBI; reflowable vs. fixed-layout; semantic markup; accessibility; image + caption issues; getting onto retailers’ bookshelves; almost anything you can think of. I say almost because I expect there are lots of dilemmas noone has run across yet.

And, it’s also great for some company. Many developers work as independent consultants without the benefit of in-office colleagues dropping by for a chat, so it’s a break from the solitude of a small office.

#eprdctn Hour: Tweet There or Be Square

Every Wednesday at 11 AM (EDT), there is an hour of more intense conversation. Sometimes it’s free-form, sometimes it’s structured around a topic. Sometimes it’s hosted by an ebook developer with a particular subject in mind, sometimes not. Whatever a given week’s format, I always come away with valuable info.

Some of us have recently begun signing up to host an hour, with a topic chosen in advance.

This week, Laura Brady brought up job opportunites for ebook developers, from both the hiring and the wanting-to-be-hired perspectives. It was a lively hour—my Twitter feed ran faster than I could read it at some points.

Here’s the conversation in Storify. (Storify is a tool that gathers conversations into a neat package.)

What’s Coming Up?

The next few weeks will bring lots of useful information. Come by to hear what folks are saying, and bring your own insights and examples.

June 17, Joshua Tallent (@jtallent) will lead a chat:  Selling directly to consumers: #eprdctn solutions that make it less painful.

June 24, @epubsecrets (@epubsecrets) will host an hour on when to let go of an #eprdctn problem; is the book broken, or not working as you want it to on one or two apps?

July 1, Iris Febres (@epubpupil) will bring a topic everyone’s talking about right now: Storyboarding for Reflowable EPUBs (Skip FXL!)

July 15, Colleen Cunningham (@BookDesignGirl) will get into EPUB3 Now: What is rendering across devices? What is still breaking?

And, in case the Summer isn’t going too fast (before it’s even begun), Laura Brady has an August conversation lined up:

August 12, Laura (@LauraB7) will map out the #eprdctn conference season.

Want To Host an Hour?

Sign up here to lead an hour. Just find an open week and enter the topic and your Twitter handle. We’ll see you there!

If you have an idea for a dedicated hour but don’t want to lead it, leave it in the Comments to this post. Someone will see it and maybe put it on the schedule.

Not on Twitter?

No problem. You don’t need to sign up to Twitter to follow #eprdctn.

Click here and you’ll see the stream.

If you want to join in but need some coaching, here’s a thorough guide to Tweet chats.