EPUB and Beyond: Digital Publishing @ W3C

  • Sumo

What’s happening with digital books at the W3C? Well, lots of things. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) hosted a webinar on just this topic yesterday. Here is a summary.

Bill Kasdorf of Apex Covantage summarized the merger of the W3C and the IDPF, complete as of February 1, 2017. EPUB has always been based on open web platform technologies, and moved closer and closer to web standards as it developed. The W3C, in turn, was interested in tapping into the IDPF’s deep publishing knowledge base. Both the IDPF and the W3C were starting to work toward a common goal and risked have two standards competing with each other.


The strategy of the W3C regarding digital publishing has a couple of areas of focus. Via various working groups (more on this shortly), the goal is to continue to develop and promote EPUB as the packaged accessible interchange and delivery format for digital publications.

Work is ongoing to advance the overall Open Web platform to meet publishing industry needs. Here, think things like pagination, and drop caps.

Finally, they are focussed on the idea of convergence: pursuing an ambitious vision to realize fully Web-native Web publications – online/offline, packaged/distributed, browser/app. Joshua Tallent jumped in here to talk about the needs of readers. As more people go mobile and purchase online, as ebooks become more integrated with the web, having a package or delivery system that isn’t limited to something like the current ebook ecosystem is beneficial to readers. Portable Web Publications is a big part of this convergence vision. This includes making sure that publishing requirements are fully and consistently supported throughout the Open Web Platform for packaged publications as well as online Web pages will support lots of kinds of publishing: trade, textbook, and other, much broader use cases.


Immediate objectives including continuing to accelerate EPUB 3 adoption via increased visibility and a W3C megaphone. Rachel Comerford, chair of the EPUB 3 Community Group, spoke to this question. Showing up at conferences, talking to other standards and industry groups to get more buy-in from both EPUB 2 and ePDF adopters to EPUB 3 – a more accessible, more user-friendly, more universal format. There is also ongoing work to advance Web for publishing needs in areas of CSS, accessibility, and ARIA.

Organizations within the W3C

There are four basics areas within the W3C where you can participate and contribute, should the mood strike you. The Publishing Business Group is the overarching entry point for the publishing strategy work. They are a guiding, strategy-making group representing publishing to the W3C. People with both business and technical backgrounds labour here, setting taskforces and priorities. This group has a small participation fee, and meets bi-weekly to provide strategic direction and business focus for the community. Their charter provides further details.

A diagram of the various pieces of the Publishing@W3C organization: Publishing Business Group overseeing the EPUB 3 Community Group, giving feedback to the standards writing Publishing Working Group, and contributing to the community building work of the Publishing Summit ’17.

The EPUB 3 Community Group is where EPUB continues to evolve. They work on the ongoing technical development of EPUB 3 and related extension specifications and ancillary deliverables. They are largely focussed on the maintenance of the current specifications, on errata, and on addressing the EPUB 3 profiles like EPUB for Education and the accessibility profile. They talk about the current state and how best to support it. It is free to join and participate, in contrast to the other groups which require a fee.

Standards are made by those who show up.—Dave Cramer

The Publishing Working Group is where this convergence story is coming together for PWP – the first standards-track work at the W3C. This is a more technical group, chartered for three years with four deliverables: a recommendation for web publications in general, packaged web publications, EPUB 4, and the DPUB-ARIA goal of adding publishing semantics to ARIA. Their charter is here.

It is the goal of the Publishing Working Group to provide, in concert with other W3C Groups, the necessary technologies on the Open Web Platform to make the combination of traditional publishing and the Web complete in terms of the readers’ needs, portability, distribution, archiving, offline access, or reliable cross referencing. In short, all publications—with all their specificities and traditions—should become first-class entities on the Web.

In short, all publications—with all their specificities and traditions—should become first-class entities on the Web.

All of these groups will have face-to-face meetings at or near the W3C Publishing Summit in San Francisco, November 8 and 9, 2017. More about it at their website.

Other Relevant Groups

The W3C is working in various other areas that may be of interest to publishing types:

Areas for potential new standards work include color management, fonts, printing from the Web, and accessible advertising.

In summary

In conclusion, Karen Myers tells us that EPUB is here and here to stay at the W3C. EPUB 3.1 is well-aligned with overall Web Accessibility initiatives and will continue to evolve and grow in adoption under W3C stewardship.

There is a lot of exciting work happening at the W3C, as you can see. Consider participating and contributing.

A recording of the entire webinar is available from the BISG.

2 Responses to “EPUB and Beyond: Digital Publishing @ W3C”

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