EPUB 3 Adoption is Still Elusive

ibooks epub3Has the new EPUB 3 standard been the boon that is was supposed to be when it was released almost two years ago at the Frankfurt Book Fair?

Has it delivered on the amazing features, accessibility, and simplicity that were promised to digital publishers?

The short answer is yes however the journey through transition to EPUB 3 for publishers has not been without its share of struggles and caveats.

Among some of the most prevalent issues are backward integration and lack of widespread support in both the publishing and device communities.

Adoption of EPUB 3

EPUB logoThis is perhaps the most troubling hurdle the publishing industry and EPUB 3 faces.

This is also something endemic to any new platform or technology.  You can create an amazing new tool or technological process but it’s really people that make the magic happen.

When people aren’t on board, concepts die before they even leave the launch pad.  It’s also difficult for people and companies to change, especially when not everyone is rushing in to do it.

Despite a strong push from some in the ePublishing community, there are a good number of eBook platforms that do not support EPUB 3.  Other prominent retailers support portions of the new platform.

So what is the hold up?

There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer but time and cost do play a role.  In switching over any workflow, there is a time and cost element to consider.

It will take a lot of time and in some cases a lot of money for publishers and retailers to switch over from the old epub2 format to the new one.  There are those who, for whatever reason, are not ready to undertake that task yet.

One of the main focuses for the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) for 2013 is to keep promoting the adoption of EPUB 3 standards across the industry.

Their efforts are particularly focused in the area of e-textbooks for tablets despite slow adoption of the devices to supplant textbooks on college campuses.

Backward Compatibility with EPUB 3

HTML5Adding fuel to the adoption fire is backward compatibility of EPUB 3 on popular devices.

Publishers who have a brilliant usability plan for their content (like dynamic popup footnotes or links to other sections throughout their content) may find that their EPUB 3 syntax doesn’t work correctly on devices that support prior versions of the platform.

Publishers making content for iBooks will not be able to deliver the same experience to their readers who use other types of devices that do not support EPUB 3.

The solution at this point is to produce two versions of marked up content; one for EPUB 2 and one for EPUB 3.

Markup present but not supported will be ignored by devices but what about devices that support both?  O’Reilly currently sells universal EPUB bundles  on its website that publishers can check out.  Another caveat to the backwards compatibility issue is that of metadata.

This is the information that helps increase discoverability of eBooks in search and also helps buyers make decisions in a virtual space about the titles they want to buy.  In order to make sure all devices can utilize metadata, it must be provided twice.  Once in the EPUB 2 format and once for EPUB 3.

Leading By Example

epub3 and html5Despite some industry players announcing their push to change earlier this year, widespread adoption of EPUB 3 remains elusive.

One elephant in the room is the major players in the digital content space like Apple and Amazon who, for a long time now, have competed using a model where customers are locked-in to the content channels built by these mammoth corporations and the devices used to consume it.

Microsoft may also be looking to become a player at some point in the near future.  Its possible to submit content that is EPUB 3 compliant to these companies but what they do with it afterward no one really knows and will all the functionality designed into an eBook still remain?

So far, these companies support bits and pieces of EPUB 3 but full adoption is still withholding.

IDPF logoHats off to the IDPF for working hard to create a universal standard that has long eluded those in the eBook publishing arena.

For the time being it appears that EPUB 3 is still in the initial stages of adoption with many still unsure as to how they will incorporate it into their workflow.

One thing is for sure, EPUB 3 offers a much richer experience to the end user.  If you are a consumer who likes eBooks or a publisher that produces them, EPUB 3 offers a much more interactive and delightful experience than previous versions.

Are you currently designing EPUB 3 content for your titles?  What road blocks have you encountered (if any)?  Join the conversation by commenting below.

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