Digital Publishing Fundamentals
Illustration by John Hersey

Digital Publishing Fundamentals

with William Everhart

Video: The shortcomings of an EPUB

Now for some of the shortcomings of the EPUB format. Just as webpages are susceptible to variational different web browsers, EPUB can display differently on each EPUB reader application. Some of the applications only support basic EPUB functionality, while others, like Apple iBooks, support the very latest in EPUB advancements. Readers may get a completely different, and perhaps unflattering, reading experience than what you had intended. For example, I have the same EPUB open here in Digital Editions on my right and Calibre on my left.

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Watch the Online Video Course Digital Publishing Fundamentals
1h 8m Appropriate for all Sep 28, 2012

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Devices like the Apple iPad have changed the way the world consumes media, and now anyone can adopt a digital publishing model and share their content with an audience. This course clearly defines the terms and types of digital formats, including EPUB, iBooks, ebooks, "enhanced" EPUB, and PDF, as well as their pros and cons, and helps you decide which media type best matches your content now, and which type you might want to migrate to in the future. The course also provides an overview of a typical digital publishing workflow and the software setup you'll need to get started.

Topics include:
  • Is print dead?
  • Understanding digital publishing terminology
  • Comparing an EPUB to a fixed-layout EPUB
  • Publishing with PDFs
  • Understanding the benefits and shortcomings of ebook apps
  • Working with InDesign, Word, and iBooks Author
  • Understanding distribution options
  • Selecting a publishing format
Subject:
Design
Author:
William Everhart

The shortcomings of an EPUB

Now for some of the shortcomings of the EPUB format. Just as webpages are susceptible to variational different web browsers, EPUB can display differently on each EPUB reader application. Some of the applications only support basic EPUB functionality, while others, like Apple iBooks, support the very latest in EPUB advancements. Readers may get a completely different, and perhaps unflattering, reading experience than what you had intended. For example, I have the same EPUB open here in Digital Editions on my right and Calibre on my left.

As you can see, there are some differences here. Take a look at the heading: certainly a different typeface and certainly much more bold over here in Digital Editions. The text of the body itself is different. Notice that it wraps maybe a little differently, different font, different size. And lastly, take a look at the margins, or the lack thereof, over here in Digital Editions. But over in Calibre I get plenty of margin space over here. Now these are just some of the differences between these two applications with this particular EPUB.

But no matter what, you should expect these types of changes, and perhaps more, when you're using the EPUB format, because there are so many different EPUB readers out there. So what does this mean for you? That you had better take notes from the folks over in the web development world and construct your EPUBs with web standards in mind. Remember EPUB is built on HTML, so similar rules apply. This may mean forgoing some of the more advanced EPUB features in lieu of consistency across multiple devices.

It also means you will be editing the underlying HTML and CSS code to ensure consistent results in the majority, but not all of EPUB apps. Now don't let this scare you off of the EPUB format. Just familiarize yourself with HTML and CSS and web standards. It's not as bad as it sounds and it will prove very beneficial for your continued success in the digital publishing world, no matter what format you choose. EPUB's greatest feature, the re-flowable content, can also be considered somewhat of a weakness. Because the content can reflow, it's difficult for designers to control object positioning, and thus, complex layouts are not common in EPUBs.

Content in an EPUB typically flows in a linear fashion from top to bottom in the order in which it was added. Images and graphics must be inserted as in-line or anchored elements in order to have them appear in the text that addresses them. Another drawback of EPUBs is the lack of page numbering. This is due to the fact that the content reflows based on the size of the screen or, if the reader has applied adjustments to the text, such as font size. When either of these attributes changes, the number of pages in an EPUB will increase or decrease accordingly.

This can make for some interesting problems when it comes to referencing content by page number. If the pages are consistently shifting, how does one make references? One method is to use hyperlinks that point to your intended content. The fact that the EPUB 3 Standard now supports embedded video and audio is no doubt a great feature. Of course, discretion must be taken when introducing such content as it can interrupt the storyline, and does detract from the reader's experience. Adding rich media also adds to the file size of your published EPUB.

This translates to longer download times and less available space on tablets and smartphones for other content. The recipe for adding rich media to any digital publishing format is that the media should add to the user's experience. Never add media or interactions just because they're cool. EPUB offers a lot of the digital publisher, but it's not without its drawbacks. They offer little control over layout of the content. In fact, the display of an EPUB may change depending on what device it is being viewed.

Not only is consistency a real concern, but support for interactivity also varies by device. Simple EPUBs are easy to create and supported by most devices, but trying to control layout or adding additional features will require some code writing experience. So if you intend to use EPUB as your digital publishing format, it would be a good idea to get caught up on your HTML and CSS code.

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