Reviewing EPUB Myths
On August 22, Aptara (@aptara) hosted a Webinar titled “eBook & App Device Compatibility: Separating Fact from Fiction” with Joshua Tallent (@jtallent), CEO and Founder of eBook Architects, and Jean Kaplansky (@JeanKaplansky), a Solutions Architect at Aptara. It was an informative Webinar, and if you missed it you can view the recording by registering here. You should also be able to download the slides from the presentation once you launch the Webinar. I encourage you to watch the Webinar since there is a lot of great content in it on the current state of eBooks and what is and is not supported.
Tallent and Kaplansky looked at reflowable files and fixed-layout files on the major retailers, with Tallent covering Kindle and iBooks and Kaplansky covering B&N’s Nook and Kobo. The Webinar used a Myth and Reality format to share the information. Here are the myths that two of them presented.
Myth: Apple completely supports EPUB3.
Reality: Apple has limited support for EPUB3.
Myth: Kindle Format 8 is the same thing as EPUB.
Reality: KF8 is NOT EPUB or EPUB3.
Myth: The Kindle format supports video and audio.
Reality: The Kindle does not support any embedded video or audio content.
Myth: The Kindle format does not allow color images.
Myth: The Kindle format does not support poetry.
Myth: The Kindle does not support outlines.
Reality: The Kindle format supports all of the above.
Tallent’s key takeaways included:
- Reflowable filesare the best option for the majority of eBooks.
- Kindle Format 8 (KF8) is NOT EPUB.
- Fixed layout: children’s titles work well in Apple, Amazon, B&N; non-fiction fixed layout currently only works well in Apple.
Myth: NOOK Books are not EPUB books.
Reality: NOOK Books are EPUB books. The difference is in Barnes & Noble’s DRM scheme.
Myth: NOOK devices and apps do not support the same user features found in iBooks, such as zoom and pan.
Reality: NOOK Tablet has Zoom and Pan Support.
Myth: Reflowable NOOK Books do not support embedded audio or video.
Reality: Embedded audio and video are supported on the NOOK Color and NOOK Tablet devices; Enhanced NOOK Books.
Myth: You cannot sideload non-NOOK Books onto a NOOK device.
Reality: You can sideload PDF files and EPUB books (with and without DRM) on the NOOK Color, NOOK Tablet, and NOOK Simple Touch readers; and the NOOK for PC and NOOK for Mac desktop apps.
Myth: Kobo Books completely support EPUB3.
Reality: Kobo has limited support for EPUB3, and only on specific devices.
Myth: Kobo Books supports the same fixed layout features as Apple iBooks.
Reality: Kobo Books supports SOME of the same features as Apple iBooks.
Myth: Kobo Book design and creation documentation is sparse.
Reality: Kobo relies on iPad documentation
Myth: All fixed-layout NOOK Books are created the same way.
Reality: Fixed-layout NOOK Books are divided into three separate product lines
- NOOK Kids, including Read to Me and Read and Play
- NOOK Comics (which does not have panel view, but does have pan and zoom)
- NOOK Page Perfect
Reality: You must work with Barnes & Noble or an approved B&N vendor to create NOOK Kids, NOOK Comics, and NOOK Page Perfect books.
Myth: Users prefer fixed-layout formatting.
Reality: Beware of fixed layout and non-fiction content!
Myth: The quality of your eBook is in the hands of your production vendor.
Reality: The quality of your eBook project requires careful content and project planning and communication.
Myth: You can use off-the-shelf software to create “push button” eBooks.
Reality: Professional quality eBooks require professional quality planning and development.
Kaplansky’s key takeaways included the following:
- There will never be “one EPUB file to rule them all.” Retailers and device manufacturers differentiate themselves and their product by the details of their implementations. Be aware of the details!
- Handle fixed layout with care and planning. Know your target devices and do what is right for the text rather than the design‑unless the two are intrinsically linked.
- Users prefer annotation and highlighting functionality over fixed layout when it comes to textbooks and non-fiction.
So what does it all mean? These were my takeaways on the myths and Tallent and Kaplansky’s takeaways.
1. The only retailers that matter are Amazon, Apple, B&N, and Kobo
While the Webinar looked at fixed layout and reflowable and what each retailers supports, and even more telling item is the four retailers that were selected. There were other out there, but these are the four for whom eBook designers are currently designing. They are setting the agenda, and ultimately, they will determine if EPUB3 in its entirety ever comes to maturity in the marketplace.
2. We are currently caught in a limbo state between EPUB 2.0.1 and EPUB3
None of these four retailers have adopted the full EPUB3 spec yet. Amazon says they will accept EPUB3 into the current versions of KindleGen and Kindle Previewer (sorry, I have not tested this yet since there is a dearth of valid EPUB3s around), but clearly KF8 is not EPUB3 and never will be. NOOK, Kobo, and iBooks do not support the full spec, just bits and pieces (and some of their additional functionality is achieved in ways that are outside the current EPUB3 spec). It is a rough place to be in. As EPUB creators, should you create EPUB 2.0.1, EPUB2 with enhancements, or attempt full EPUB3 even though no one really supports it fully?
3. The major retailers are moving further apart, not coming together over EPUB3
Amazon is off on their own with KF8. Apple has done what they wanted/needed to do to achieve the functionality they want for iBooks and iBooks Author on the iPad. Much of what Kobo has done with fixed layout is based on iBooks, but they are not Apple so they cannot create the same files. B&N has their own approach to fixed layout and supports different things. This is why Kaplansky said there will never be “one EPUB file to rule them all.” If you are creating fixed-layout EPUBs, you will probably need to create different files for each retailer.
4. The major retailers do not have the same support across their own devices and apps
The major retailers have multiple devices with different capabilities in the marketplace and have apps for all the major platforms. The retailers support of their own implementations is not 100 percent across all of their devices. Providing a single EPUB to each vendor even with media queries to determine what kind of device the reader has is difficult at best.
5. Outside of iBooks Author, fixed layout for non-fiction is probably not a good idea
Apple created iBooks Author to help publishers create textbooks (among other reasons). Because of this creators can make non-fiction titles that have a great deal of functionality. Unfortunately, these files are not EPUB, and cannot and will not work on non-Apple devices. The other retailers just do not support the parts of the EPUB3 spec that would really make non-fiction books sing.
6. This does not scale and removes the cost benefits of EPUB
Publishers can not afford to produce four different versions of EPUB for four different retailers (and more for additional retailers in the future). The cost of EPUB creation will increase as the retailers specs diverge further. This will likely mean many pubs will make a choice of targeting Amazon and KF8, and a single other retailer, likely Apple, with a single EPUB file. The other retailers will have to take what they can get in terms of the EPUB or go without. The future this leads to: Amazon and Apple will be the main, possibly only, eBook retailers.
7. Publishers and the IDPF need to pressure retailers to support and accept the full EPUB3 spec now or it will never be implemented
We are at a crossroads. Either EPUB3 is supported in the marketplace and the full spec is implemented by retailers, allowing publishers to produce one file for everyone, or the retailers will continue to take a pick-and-choose approach to the spec, leading to different formats and different capabilities for each retailer’s devices and apps. It is time for publishers and the IDPF to exert whatever influence they have to right the EPUB ship, convince the retailers to fall in line behind the full EPUB3 spec, and prevent a further splintering of the format.
What do you think about the current state of reflowable and fixed-layout eBooks? Are you having trouble creating files that will render and work correctly on each retailers devices and apps? How do you see the EPUB3 spec moving forward?