It’s unfair to note a problem without offering a solution. So I thought we’d start a new series here at Foodie By Night where I (and you!) propose solutions to some of the problems that lead the world to choose EPUB. In case you need to catch up, I think EPUB development has stagnated largely thanks to eReading devices that don’t or won’t update to the suggested standard. You’ll have to forgive me if I use Inkling as an example often, I will try to work other examples into this series, but as you may have realized, I’m very familiar with Inkling’s infrastructure so it tends to be my go-to.
Today I thought we’d tackle one of the easiest topics. Epub is often chosen over pdf to allow the reader to interact with the content directly and more thoroughly. Though EPUB definitely presents an improvement in interactivity (for example the ability to take notes or highlight on an eReading device) there is a disturbing design trade-off being made. Here’s a simple truth that may surprise you. That interactivity, note-taking, highlighting, search and so on is all built in to the eReaders not the ePub.
Knowing that, you’re free to explore other interactive platforms that provide similar services or build one yourself! Websites have the ability to provide highlighting and note-taking capabilities too. In fact Inkling’s web reader has a comments and notes bar. Users create a profile and log in (this also helps with DRM, more on that in another post) and can save comments and highlights to their user account meaning that they can revisit and re-edit them later!
Think about it, commenting is already built in to most blogging platforms so you immediately have a venue for readers to ask each other questions and get help on a topic. With a little elbow grease and some help you could build on to that and create something much more complex! In fact several resourceful bloggers have used password protected websites with built in tracking to teach e-courses ( A Beautiful Mess’s Blog Life course is a great example!).
So we’ve established that notes, comments and highlighting are all available on the web if you want them to be. Now comes the bonus material, the icing on the cake. For most content there is little to no trade off in design when books are hosted on the web. You can include all of the advantages of HTML 5 and CSS 3 and make a gorgeous book with full-bleed images, stunning colors, backgrounds, banners and more! Heck you can even make it look like a book if you were in love with page turn.
Keeping books out of epub also means relatively consistent support for highly interactive content like widgets, videos, audio and many other elements that suffer in EPUB depending on what eReader you’re using. You can have truly inspired interactive content link this:
That book is a mix of widgets, HTML 5, CSS 3 and a few other common web languages hosted as it’s own app. Some backend work was done to make sure everything worked seamlessly but not a stitch of it is EPUB. It is however, available offline, on ipad, iphone, any computer (online) and android. It has the ability to share the title of the book via social media but has DRM built in. It is a gorgeous non-EPUB ebook.
Now you may be thinking, but Veronica how will people view it offline? This is a subject for a different post, but the short of it is, you’ll need to consider how people should access your content offline, PDF, APP, save locally to an ipad? These questions and their answers will immensely effect how your content structure should be built. It’s a question better answered early when considering moving away from epub.
Another thought is how do we compensate for sales lost through Amazon and Apple? Don’t mistake me, it will take an industry wide effort to push e-tailors like Amazon and Apple to pay attention to other formats or even push timely updates to their epub readers. Here’s the happy news, there are platforms that will allow you to push web content to ePub. This is actually a big part of my job at Inkling, creating stylesheets for epub and solving epub specific issues that publishers report to us. That way you can have stellar web content and a baseline epub to send off to the land of iBooks without having to start over.