EPUB3: One File, Many Ebooks

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

shutterstock_81933151A single EPUB3 file can be used to create an ebook for all e-readers, explained Liz Castro, tech expert and author, at the IDPF conference in New York.

Then Castro pointed out the obvious advantages of this efficiency:

• Ebooks are less expensive to produce.
• Changes can be made more simply.
• Quality control can be more consistently implemented.

Producing an ebook for every platform from a single digital file has long been an ideal in the publishing industry. And, device manufacturers and production professionals are moving toward just such an industry standard.

Hachette’s practice of delivering the same EPUB3 file to all its e-tailers, including Amazon, sets a precedent for the industry, said Castro. If more publishers developed a single viable ebook file, would e-reader systems converge upon a single standard for rendering that file? And in turn, make ebooks a more intelligible medium for the reader?

For now, different platforms render EPUB3 elements in distinct ways. For instance, EPUB3 allows developers to list several contributors to an ebook, with the option of defining these writers more specifically as, say, author, editor, or contributor, explained Castro. EPUB3 is also equipped to accommodate several iterations of the ebook title. This could be a main title, a sub title, and a shortened form of the title. Currently however, this information won’t render consistently across devices: Nook and Kindle devices will show the first title in the list while Apple displays the last title in the list as the definitive ebook title.

A bit more progress toward an industry standard has been made regarding the navigation features that EPUB3 enables. Castro described the navigation features of EPUB3, which accommodate two TOCs, Landmarks, and a Page List that maps the digital file in contrast to a select print file. While this information is interpreted differently by different e-reading systems, it always enriches UX (rather than causing the sort of confusion mentioned above regarding titles).

Pro Tip: The Landmarks guide and Page List are visible in the ebook and often not too interesting as content. Castro recommends that developers elegantly hide these pages from the reader with a bit of code.

Thanks to the thoughtful design of EPUB3, upgrading an existing EPUB file to the newer version by updating some code won’t impair that ebook’s function, even on devices that claim not to support the newer open ebook standard.

Yet there are some EPUB3 capabilities that can’t be retrofitted to function on those less sophisticated devices (i.e., customizable layouts as well as embedded audio and video elements).

Nonetheless, with experts like Castro, adeptly demystifying the technology of ebook production, and keeping development and device standards top-of-mind for the publishing industry, the promise of EPUB3—one file, all formats—will soon be fully realized.

Image Credit: books image via Shutterstock

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About DeannaUtroske

Deanna Utroske is the Content Producer at Digital Book World and an active member of New York Women in Communications, where she serves on the Integrated Marketing & Communications Committee. Previously, Deanna worked in the editorial office of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, a publication of the University of Chicago Press.

4 thoughts on “EPUB3: One File, Many Ebooks

  1. Shannon LC Cate

    So…does this mean that someday soon, when I want to list my ebooks by author, it will consistently put the surnames first? Because right now, Ann Bronte comes before Jane Austen (for example) and it drives me crazy.

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