I lived, breathed, and slept ePUB for two solid years. My working days were spent trying figure out how I could squeeze the most creativity and interactivity I could into an ePUB. Being the perfectionist I am, I found myself pushing the edges of the standard to see just how much design I could include. It was challenging, rewarding and most of all frustrating (There are few things more daunting than opening what was a beautiful epub in a Kindle or ADE device). But I was invested, I wanted to see the ePUB spec succeed and rejoiced when the ePUB 3 spec and all it’s new supported gizmos and gadgets were announced. But a year went by and most of those additions were still a pipe dream. Even if they had been fully adopted, we were choked by the eTailors (those who sell eBooks) and their eReaders.
eTailor competition is fierce, one great example is that Apple’s maximum book cover image size is smaller than the Kindle’s minimum cover image size, making it necessary to make a separate file for each device. Or better yet, Amazon requires that you convert your epub to an entirely different file type to submit it to the store. Still another example is that the last update to the Kindle IOS app was made almost exclusively to remove Apple’s cut of the profits from the app.
For those who don’t know, each eReading platform, Apple iBooks, Amazon Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony, Adobe Digital Editions and so many more, theoretically all support ePUB3 to some capacity. Yet somehow (read: different rendering software) the content displays differently. Amazon’s devices are notorious for this. As it is now (and excluding “legacy devices”) Amazon’s major eReaders Kindle for IOS, Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Fire and Fire HD don’t all support the same things. While Paperwhite is expected to fall behind because it is a less complex device, the IOS app and the Fire are tablet based and should be able to come somewhat close to one another. When trying to accommodate all four amazon devices combined, the require an ePUB that is roughly HTML 4 and CSS 2 compliant. Ouch. The Amazon Spec is no help, it’s out of date and several things that it states should be supported are not or only are on certain devices. This would be less of a problem if Amazon would send different .mobi files to different types of devices but they don’t.
This highlights another point, the major creators of eReaders are indifferent to their ePUB support, most only produce eReaders as one of many other products and services (Amazon, Apple, Sony). It’s an after thought. I’ve been told that Amazon won’t be updating their mobi spec for a year and others report that Apple updates have slowed significantly. When the eReaders themselves languish, drive to develop the standard fizzles. Why add new features when no one can see them?
I still work on ePUB problems every day, but now it’s from a different perspective. I transitioned about a year ago into developing content rich, interactive eBooks for web readers and apps which means I have the whole library of HTML 5 and CSS 3 to play with. But publishers still need ePUBs to sell in major markets like amazon, they don’t want to lose sales from such a huge discovery platform (and who can blame them?). So now we’ve created an ePUB output as well and are wrestling with finding a way to gracefully degrade content for Kindle.
The switch from ePUB to the wide web was an eye opener. HTML 5 and CSS 3 are equalizers as everyone has access to the same spec and can trust that it works. Browsers actively move to support the new standards which fuels developers to push the limits further and further. Most of the web is on board and co-operative, it’s truly an impressive effort. It easily translates into apps which means we have the ability to have a relatively consistent display across not only browsers but devices too! Inkling’s books are now available on the web, android and all apple products. It’s incredibly liberating.
When catering to the eReaders there’s no such thing as one eBook file for all. To use one ePUB for all devices is to sacrifice quality (for now).
So here’s the silver lining, ePUB may not be the right standard right now, but maybe this will facilitate a move to web/app readers, they’d be accessible on most devices and can be set up to make content available offline, DRM can still be preserved, pin codes can be used to sell titles on Amazon, publishers could host their own books on their websites, and now accounts can be set up to require log-in to read a title. What’s holding us back? Perhaps with some industry pressure or an industry wide shift in marketing efforts (we’re being idealistic here I know) we could realistically create a new standard, one that’s not stagnant, we could change the way we read digitally. It will take some time (and ePUB’s in between) but it’s possible.
What do you all think? I’m sure there are other perspectives and factors I haven’t touched on. Do you think we need a new standard?