Comments on Publication Standards Part 1: The Fragmented Present

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  1. Great article, I am very pleased to see this here. Personally I think the ebook standards are coming from the wrong direction and it is hurting their development. I would like to see focus on HTML standards for publishing and use ePub as a wrapper. For example, many ePub readers are webkit based which gets us off to a great start but they use “CSS columns to implement pagination”: instead of an “HTML spec dedicated to paging”: . Building models for pagination and layout from HTML first then moving to ePub as a wrapper would greatly increase consistency as well as control over layout for publishers. I am very pleased to see publishers like “A Book Apart”: and “Pottermore”: publishing ePubs and other book formats independently of Amazon and other big stores however the tie-in DRM to these e-readers is a major problem. I encourage everyone who cares about this stuff to join the “digital publishing community group”:

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  2. Don’t have much to add, but anyone interested in ebooks should follow the hashtag #eprdctn on Twitter — so many bright people in the business of making ebooks get involved there.

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  3. Great article, thank you for articulating these issues so well.  I am currently making ebooks/ibooks…and hit up against a lot of this stuff.  Having said that I am finding the opportunities here amazing and deeply satisfying.  Our model involves curating the content for our books, so they are collections of articles, video and audio, and our focus is mainly on training, though I have a beautiful concept song/novel coming up.  Working with authors has been fantastic, who seem genuinely grateful for the time time taken to create these books and make it all work. There are some really decent people out there doing this, #eprdctn definitely a great resource. Liz Castro - again amazing. I am pushing forward and trying to define what I do and how I do it as best as I can, and the greatest mainstay of this in my opinion is community. 

    I look forward to Part 2 ;)

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  4. You did a great job of providing an intelligent, yet easily understood, breakdown of the struggles libraries are facing with ebooks.  As the web developer for a public library this is something we are working to improve but there are a lot of barriers in front of us.

    Right now we have a petition at and we’re working to open the lines of communication between publishers and libraries.

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  5. >  web developers could help here

    um… no.

    most emphatically not.

    it’s 2012, and in the last decade,
    web developers haven’t even managed
    to “fix” _the web_ yet…  in fact,
    in too many ways, the web is just as
    screwed up as it used to be back in
    the old days of the “browser wars”;
    it’s just that today’s incompatibilities
    have migrated out to specialized areas
    of which the general public is unaware,
    because we’ve all had to give up and
    use templates, or hire costly “experts”.

    so please, just go away, and don’t try to
    “help” e-books.  we’ll do fine without you.

    i’m serious.  shoo!


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  6. I wanted to correct a couple things:

    1. You do not have to use Amazon’s Kindle conversion software before uploading the file to the Kindle store. I use Calibre to convert from ePub to mobi and upload that file to Amazon.

    2. DRM is not required to upload to Kindle store. There’s an option that you can check on when uploading the book to decide where you wish to use DRM.

    Producing my content in HTML, I’ve been able to mostly streamline the conversion process into PDF, ePub and mobi formats. One format would be nicer, of course.

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  7. Eep—Confirming what snookca says: You don’t have to use Kindle’s conversion software and you don’t need to use DRM. (Thank goodness!)

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  8. @Scott Kellum: The split between ePub, HTML/CSS, and native apps is probably the biggest concern of our project.

    @BillLudwig: Nice. I’ve seen this petition before, and I “tweeted”: about it recently. You very much have our support; let me know if you need anything.

    @snookca, @amber: Oof, good catch. One follow-up: you download a non-DRM’d Kindle book from the Kindle store, is it possible for you to save the mobi locally for backup purposes?

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  9. @Nick, while I don’t have a kindle, I’m told that yes, you can save the mobi files locally for backup purposes. You just can’t read the ones with DRM.

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  10. In the world of STM (scientific, technical and medical), reference, and other publishing disciplines we solved this problem years ago. Single source authoring using structured markup - where one creates the text using markup that identifies content, context and structure - is the key. How rich is the markup? As rich as the content creator determines it needs to be. How is it output? In any format someone would like - through XSL transformations. What will the next new format be? It doesn’t really matter - my content, even if authored 20 years ago, can be output to the latest and greatest new format by creating a transform. One transform that can change 1 page, 1000 pages, 1,000,000 pages - as many as you might have in your archives - into something new. A dozen transforms can change the same source text into a dozen different formats, and all the while my text can be kept current without having to worry about making changes in a dozen places.

    Sure. You don’t want to learn XML or have to use an XML editor. That’s your choice. And it’s a choice you should consciously make.

    As someone who has been involved in the standards-making process for almost two decades, readers must understand that most standards are created by companies and individuals with competing interests (unless authored by a single company in which case it isn’t really a standard, is it?); there is always some level of compromise. Only standards created after the fact will match currently-available technology; it takes a while (sometimes years, depending on an application’s lifecycle) for application developers to implement what has been codified. And in the case of HTML5 we don’t even have that; we have two competing bodies (WHATWG and W3C) representing very different interests; the end result is that we don’t *have* a standard; instead we have an ever-evolving feature set which is why most standards referencing HTML5 include a fixed list of supported features (typically those that are supported by the vast majority of currently-available browsers).

    The upshot? We really don’t want a world where there is only one standard, one format that each and every one of us must use, no matter what our specific requirements might be. The world would be a very dull place and innovation would grind to a halt.

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  11. > Layout and design creates book covers and selects type.

    Really, as a designer, you should know that designers do more for interiors than just “select type.” When we get to design interiors, we actually design them, which goes much beyond just selecting type.

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  12. @xmlgeek: All fair points. XML is an admirable starting point for open, interoperable formats that can survive archival pretty well. I’m fond of using plain text as much as possible when considering the long term.

    But technical writing is a very different beast from complex page layout software. And while standard publishing may be a solved problem for the former, it is far from it for the latter. That is what this essay concerns — and its publication in A List Apart was in part because the same issues are addressed by modern web developers.

    To be clear, I’m not advocating ePub 3 as The One True Path where everyone must fall in line. ePub 3 is the best way to handle modern digital publishing concerns _right now_, and the best hope to spread across e-reading platforms _right now_. That will change someday. When that day comes, we’ll hopefully have conversion tools and an easy way to read older formats — and (to be heinously reductive about it) I reckon that’s roughly how the web plays out today.

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  13. hi
    its may sound funy but i think thet Since technically we all work in publishing

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  14. @Nick, I must disagree. We’ve been producing some very sophisticated page layouts from XML for quite some time. Whether you’re using XSL-FO, SDL’s XPP, importing into InDesign, or any other method of your choosing - it’s been being published from SGML/XML sources for a couple of decades.

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  15. First time I read your blog, and it is really amazing. And actually you are tottally right “Since technically we all work in publishing”.

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  16. bowerbird, web developers don’t manage the web, they’d like to, but it’s companies that do. However, being a web developer, there’s something to be said for a “screwed up” web that requires people to “hire costly experts”...

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  17. Sorry, commenting is closed on this article.