HTML5, The Future — And Now — of Publishing

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

While there is still some debate and discussion, I believe the war is over and HTML5 is the future of digital publishing. Whether the HTML is packaged in an EPUB file, displayed as a website, or packaged as an app, its richness and ubiquity make it the perfect language for expressing content.

For clarification, when I talk about HTML5, I’m referring to the HTML5 stack; HTML5, CSS3, and javascript. Additionally as a disclosure, I am the chief technology officer of, a Web-based HTML5 authoring tool.

Why has it won the war?
1) Developers — There are no lack of HTML5 developers, and they can come from any industry.
2) Tools — There are thousands of HTML editing tools at various price points and levels of complexity
3) Ubiquity — A Web browser is a requirement on all internet connected devices; therefore, HTML can be read anywhere. Additionally, given the nature of webkit, applications can quickly be developed.
4) XML Core — If done correctly, an HTML document can easily be re-styled for a smaller or larger device, have it’s content searched contextually, or have data intelligently restructured.
5) Features — Unlike proprietary formats, or lesser-known languages, there is an ocean of open source and priced-to-own code and widgets that can be used to bring content to life.

The Future (and a little bit of now)
Static content is here. Now. HTML powers the news sites we read, the blogs, even many of the mobile apps we use. It is the core behind the EPUBs we read, and even the mobi files we read on our kindles got their start as HTML files (HTML/EPUB is a valid form to use with Kindlegen to make mobi files). To remain relevant and continue to provide value, there are a few next steps that publishers need to take.

1) Semantic Markup
Most semantic markup will be controlled by tools. What is meant by semantic markup is ensuring that all concepts and chunks of information are grouped or tagged correctly. For example, a definition and key word are noted as such or an article is grouped.

2) Responsive Designs
Building responsive designs is heavily dependent on having your semantic markup correct. Reading takes place on a wide range of devices, from a small smartphone to a large computer monitor. A design that works well on one screen size may be unreadable on another. If your content is almost completely text, you can trust the reader app to display the text properly. As you get into more highly designed content, the publisher will want control over the look and feel.

Responsive designs will let the ebook designers to define how content will look on different screen sizes — ensuring an optimal experience on a wide range of devices.

3) Enhance
A large amount of content — graphic novels, non fiction, cookbooks, etc — lends itself to enhancement. To say that the possibilities of HTML5 are endless is an understatement. The problem with a near infinite set of possibilities is that the paradox of choice kicks in and we — as an industry — become unable to make a choice. Or even worse, we do the craziest things we can think of and enter an awkward period of using the <blink> tag. (The <blink> tag was an old HTML tag, that caused text inside to blink on and off. It was terrible, but simply because it exists, quite a few early websites made heavy use of the tag.)

To help showcase some of the wonderful things that HTML5 can do, I’ve partnered with DBW and created a Web-book of HTML5 examples that you can play with. In addition to showing the live examples, I’ve provided a cost estimate and business case behind each set of interactions. Check it out here.

The Current State of HTML5
As it stands, all of the major ebook software companies (Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc) will take EPUB3, which is HTML5 at its core. The only platform that supports Javascript is Apple, and CSS3 support is limited in most platforms except Apple. Amazon does not directly support EPUB or HTML5, but through the Kindlegen application (provided by Amazon), a valid EPUB file will be converted to Amazon’s mobi format. Kobo has stated it will fully support EPUB3 by Q3 of 2013 and Sony already supports much of EPUB3.

This is the state today, but tomorrow it’s going to be an HTML5 world.

4 thoughts on “HTML5, The Future — And Now — of Publishing

  1. James Moushon

    I totally agree with the logic. That is where this all should have gone to start with. HTML or something like it is what we need if we are to keep the individual ebook’s life for generations to come.
    One problem is: Will Amazon want to give up control of their format and let the competition in the door?
    Unfortunately it feels like a massive Gutenberg like project 20 years from now to me.

    1. Nick Ruffilo

      James, As long as Amazon provides a conversion mechanism (which they already do through their kindlegen application), that seems good enough for me. Even if Amazon never embraces ePub or HTML as their standard, all of their devices have web-browsers on them, and are built on android (which has webkit baked in) so it will always be possible to read HTML content on an Amazon device.

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