Sunday, January 22, 2012


There's consternation about the new .ibooks ebooks produced by Apple's iBooks Author and read by iBooks 2:

Will publishers feel trapped?

"Every publisher should have a publishing workflow." There is nothing novel about that. There is a base format (for the publisher) from which all publications are born. EPUB 3 is a candidate. Or something more general involving HTML5, XML, any combination of these with CSS and JS, etc.

The publisher might have their own EPUB with some additions (e.g. Apple's fixed-layout EPUB). The point is the base format is fixed, and from the base format all other formats flow. I'll just call the publisher's own base format EPUB Me, and the file extension .epme (though it might just be .epub following the appropriate specification).

There are various channels the publisher distributes through. These will likely require a conversion from EPUB Me to another format. Take Amazon's KF8 as an example. Thankfully, Amazon has provided a document and a tool for enabling the publisher to covert EPUB Me to KF8. The publisher first has to convert — how this is done is technology adopted or developed by the publisher — their own .epme to a .epub+ that KindleGen can accept. (That's where the document comes in: to define what type of HTML+CSS Amazon will accept either in .epub form or a directory of HTML+CSS+image files.) KindleGen will output .kf8.

Apple's format is not so simple: How do you go from .epme to .ibooks? Given the restrictions of iBooks Author, one way would be to use an EPUB to DOC converter (EPUBtoDOC*, or E2D for short), import the DOC file into iBooks Author, and edit (hopefully without a lot of work) what is there to make it right for delivery in the Apple channel.

So there are two examples already of the publisher's workflow:

.epme.epub+ → KindleGen → .kf8
.epme.epub → E2D → .docx → iBooks Author → .ibooks

The key to this workflow is that the original source.epme belongs to the publisher alone and not to the channel on which it's distributed. output.ibooks may be "owned" by Apple, but source.epme is owned by the publisher.

iBooks Author seems pretty much like a black hole though. One might manage somehow to get EPUB in, but one can't get anything useful, like EPUB 3 (other than Apple's proprietary format), out.

I.e.: From authors/publishers point of view, they need to feed into the Apple .ibooks format if that turns out to be useful for them, but keep their original source (their .epme) separate, so they can feed that same source independently into different channels as well.

This workflow model can be extended to any number of distribution channels.

* EPUBtoDOC: e.g. Alternatively, load the EPUB file into Sigil (EPUB editor) and cut-and-paste into iBooks Author. :(

Saturday, January 14, 2012

E-publishing distribution formats for 2012

Here are the "container" formats for e-publishers to distribute in this year. There are a bunch of older ones which don't appear much anymore* after 2011, The Year Of The E-Reader. (Some said 2010 was that Year, but it was really last year.)

EPUB (.epub)

Technically, it's all about EPUB 3.0 superseding EPUB 2.0.1. (I write "EPUB" instead of "ePub", etc. as that's what's on the standard.)

EPUB (.epub) fixed-layout

Apparently from Apple, it really just seems to be EPUB with pixel-specific settings in the "style" attributes (CSS) in the EPUB file. There are samples from eBook Architects. It's like PDF in that it doesn't "reflow". I guess whether one wants to call this a "different" format from EPUB is a matter of debate.

KF8 (.kf8)

Amazon's new format to "replace" its old MOBI 7. Could add to some confusion of publishing the "same" book in both EPUB (for NOOK, etc.) and KF8 (for Kindle).

KF8 released for publishers
For Word editors
For HTML+CSS editors

CDF (.cdf)

From Wolfram Research, this is the Computable Document Format (CDF). When CDF "players" are available for tablets, it could be huge in the math e-textbook domain.

How it compares to EPUB

HPub (.hpub)

Used by the Baker Framework to make HTML5-based books or magazines to be downloaded as iOS apps. Could be more powerful than EPUB 3 alone (e.g. allow more JavaScript-ing).

.hpubBaker.ipa (iOS "app")

As mentioned above, Amazon will "replace" MOBI with KF8 (sort of, and not yet for its E Ink Touch reader). PDF will stay around as long as people have printers (though fixed-layout EPUB replaces a lot of its non-reflow "features"), Flash will be edged out. HTML5 will rule.

That's about it. Any other formats worth mentioning I missed?

2012/01/21: On Thursday, Apple announced new format: a NotTechnicallyInEPUB (or "iBooks") format. More about when people can figure out what it means.

* For conversion of EPUB files to older formats, or the conversion of HTML to EPUB, see Calibre (there is a list of formats there). Editing of EPUB files can be done with Sigil.