A Choose Your Own ebookcraft Adventure!

For three days in March of 2015, the eBOUND team went forth into the slightly northern part of downtown Toronto to attend one of the best digital publishing conferences in Canada…

Deep in the MaRS Centre, the future of digital publishing was deliberated by some of the most talented minds in the industry. As we sat amid a sea of curious publishing professionals, we were able to compose these notes…

Alright, enough of that. Writing those Dungeon & Dragon-esque choose your own adventure stories must be difficult—and dreary. But we like the concept so we’ll borrow the format but keep the epic imagery at bay. For those of you who weren’t able to be there in person, we present a quick set of takeaways from an extremely informative conference. Just as we were able to choose which workshops and lectures to sit in on, so can you jump around the page to review the content that most interests you. Just click the links that appear at the bottom of each section. Or, if everything on the menu looks good, read straight through. We hope you enjoy your reader experience.

Day One: ebookcraft 2015 workshops

Last year, someone somewhere realized “we need more ebookcraft!” And after much head nodding, eBOUND took up the call. Infusing our love of interactive, in-depth workshops into day one of this (now) two day program, we narrowed in on a few intriguing topics affecting the industry. We could write an entire blog post about putting this section of the event together! The applause should be directed towards our Manager of Technology, Shannon Culver, who assisted with day one’s programming, and also hosted a panel discussion in the afternoon. So without further ado, we present the highlights of day one of ebookcraft!

Ebook Accessibility Tools & Best Practices: Mysteries of Accessible Apps & Device Features Revealed

Speaker: Jean Kaplansky, Digital Content Solutions Architect at Aptara

Jean encouraged us to look beyond and expand our concept of the features and users of accessible texts. Making text more accessible can be as simple as using the text-to-speech command on a computer or mobile device, enlarging the text size on an e-reading device, or even reversing the text and background colours on a web page. These are all examples of ways that a wide variety of readers make texts more accessible for themselves every day.

There are four principles of accessibility

  1. Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  2. Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable.
  3. Understandable: Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
  4. Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

“Born Accessible” Ebook Production Best Practices

  • All text must be available in a logical reading order
  • Separate presentation and content
  • Provide complete navigation
  • Create meaningful structure wherever possible
  • Define the content of each tag
  • Use images only for pictures, not for tables or text
  • Use image descriptions and alt text
  • Include page numbers
  • Define the language(s)
  • Use MathML
  • Provide alternative access to media content
  • Make interactive content accessible
  • Makes sure your processes support the above best practices

For further reference, visit these accessibility standards guides:

Pick your next destination:

Practical Information for Images in ebooks

Speaker: Joshua Tallent, Chief eBook Architect at Firebrand Technologies

Formats:

  • .jpg is the most commonly used image file on the internet, but is subject to lossy compression. They’re great for saving space in an ebook, but they’re copies. Raw formats are much better to work with.
  • .gifs give you the ability to have transparency and line art—but only 256 colours. They’re meant to be easily downloadable. The lossless compression algorithm was patented, and the patent has not yet expired.
  • .png was the answer to the .gif’s patent issues. It’s an open-source file and is best used for text, line art, and/or graphics with lossless compression. You can also have transparent .pngs. Can be 24-bit RGB or 32 bit RGB, but doesn’t have any animation support.
  • .tif was originally meant for scanner and fax machines. Fairly flexible, it can be used as a container for a .jpg. It too has lossless compression—but is limited to 4GB.
  • .eps (encapsulated postscript). Common file type for print design, used in Illustrator. It’s a source format, however, and not supported in ebooks.
  • .svg (Scalable Vector Graphics). XML-based, open-sourced, and supported in ebooks.

Dos and Don’ts

    • DON’T use CMYK for ebooks, this is a print-only format.
    • DO use Photoshop’s tools to convert CMYK to RGB. It’s best to convert in a colour-managed environment, as this can be tricky.
    • DON’T believe in the dpi myth— sizing for the internet means using pixels, not dots per inch (dpi). Vendors recommend 300 ppi as a standard.
    • DO use .svg as image files in your ebooks. Read as a content document in ePUB 3s.
    • DON’t use .gifs in ebooks. It used to be a requirement for Kindle, but they now accept .pngs.
    • DO tag complex structures (such as lists, tables, figures, code samples, etc.) correctly in logical reading order. Use
      and
    • DON’T use width and height inside of an image tag (< img src=” ” >), instead use CSS block code. Furthermore, don’t use CSS to reposition elements visually different than the markup, put content in natural reading order.
    • DO make sure Javascript does not have to be enabled in order to read the entire ebook.
    • DON’t use SVG wrappers, in fact, don’t apply a background colour at all, instead make the image dimensions as large as you can.
    • DO have fun with it.

Next stop:

Beyond Beginners: Using InDesign’s EPUB 3 Feature Set

Speaker: Anne-Marie Concepción, CEO of Creative Publishing Network and Owner of Seneca Design & Training

When learning about InDesign, it’s usually best to have access to InDesign, or generally know the layout of the current Adobe InDesign. Our beautifully descriptive prose doesn’t quite do this presentation justice, nor does our beautifully cryptic tech talk, so we’ve compiled a few key takeaways AND provided this link to the original workshop slides.

Key Takeaways:

  • HTML5, CSS3, SVG, and MathML are the languages used in ePUB 3.
  • MathML is a markup language for math equations, often found in textbooks.
  • ePUB 3 is based on current web standards. It includes: enhanced metadata, accessibility, rich media, enhanced design and typography, world languages, interactivity. (So let that ePUB 2.1 retire already!)
  • A good, free program for decompressing, editing and recompressing ePUB files on a MAC is eCanCrusher. This is just one of the many fantastic resources Anne-Marie included in her presentation (it stayed with us because, well, look at that name). There are many free tools available to help you test, validate, and perfect your ePUBs.
  • If you’re working on the latest version of Adobe CC, you can enter little bits of metadata! Really basic bits of data like title, author, pub date, etc., but metadata nonetheless. It will populate the OPF file. You can also select “Object Export Options” in this version (under “Select”) to dictate what certain pages will be identified as (e.g. bibliography, dedication page, etc.).
  • Remember: The default alt tag is the name of the file.

Where would you like to go?

eBooks in the Wild: A Panel with eBook Retailers

Moderator: Shannon Culver, Manager of Technology at eBOUND Canada

Panel: Michael Cook (Enthrill), Ben Dugas (Kobo), Mary Alice Elcock (BitLit), Caroline Thériault-Lepage (De Marque).

eBOUND’s own Shannon Culver brought together a panel of ebook vendors in order to pick their brains (and get the inside scoop) about the files that they are currently receiving from publishers in Canada and across the world.

Question 1: What are the most common issues that you run into when QA-ing content files from publishers?

De Marque

  • Not enough testing on multiple platforms. They receive files that seem perfectly fine on one device but the files are not transferable and/or don’t comply with validation.
  • Encourage publishers to upload files as far in advance of the pub date as possible, so that if the ePUB files aren’t compliant, the vendors have enough time to fix the problem before the release date, and avoid missed sales.

BitLit

  • Need publishers to know how their own files look across platforms.
  • Encourage publishers to communicate with them as much as they can.
  • Asked publishers to send metadata records for each content format. If you are sending them content files in ePUB, Mobi and PDF formats, you also need to send three metadata records for each different format.

Kobo

  • One pain point for Kobo is that publishers will send one version of an ePUB file to different retailers, and not take into consideration the varying requirements of each platform.
  • Encourage publishers to review their ePUB Guidelines on GitHub before sending content to Kobo.
  • Advise that if you’re only going to test on one platform, it shouldn’t be iBooks, as it’s not compatible with many other vendors’ systems.
  • Encourage publishers to rethink their books for digital, and what format will suit each book best (reflowable vs fixed).
  • Advise publishers to leave as much time as possible to work out the bugs before the release date.

Question 2: What percentage of content files that you receive are in ePUB 3 format? Is it becoming a more popular format, or is ePUB 2 still the dominant category?

De Marque

  • The majority of files that De Marque receives are in ePUB 2 format, around 95% of the content in their system.
  • De Marque’s digital warehouse in France has about 20% ePUB 3 content, because of the popularity of the comic book format, but all other digital warehouses have 97% ePUB 2 content.

They do not receive many fixed layout files, about 96% are reflowable.

BitLit

  • Also receive primarily ePUB2 and reflowable files.

Kobo

  • 11% of the content in the Kobo system is ePUB 3 reflowable. ePUB 3 fixed layout accounts for 9% of their content, and the rest is ePUB 2 reflowable.
  • Complex books (with audio/visual or interactive features) are more likely to be made in ePUB 3 format.
  • B&N doesn’t support ePUB 3, which may prevent publishers from experimenting more with the format.

Enthrill

  • The majority of fixed layout books that they receive are cookbooks and kids’ books.
  • ePUB 2 makes up the bulk of files that they receive from publishers, too.

Question 3: In terms of what you know about how your customers consume books, what should publishers be thinking about when designing their ebooks?

De Marque

  • Produce professional/high quality products.
  • Provide a good reader experience.
  • In order to get more digital readers, it is imperative that we offer good quality products.
  • Offer a wide variety of file formats for publication when possible.

BitLit

  • Create files that work well on all platforms.
  • Ensure that no matter how the reader chooses to read your books, they’re going to have a good experience.

Kobo

  • Ask yourself whether you are making something that will work on multiple platforms?
  • If you’re going to make a book that only works for one retailer, put thought into whether the value of putting in those bells and whistles compensates for the financial/time effort.

Enthrill

  • Keep it simple.
  • If your bells and whistles stop the reader from reading your book, then it’s just not worth it.

Start Over

Opting Out of FXL (Fixed-Layout)

Speaker: Laura Brady, Principal at Brady Type

This was probably the most heated of the ebookcraft workshop sessions. Converting your print book to its digital counterpart isn’t as simple as just scanning. You have to think digitally, which means broadening your deep-rooted beliefs about which format is best suited for a particular title. There’s nothing wrong with fixed-layout, but it’s neither the end all nor the industry standard. Don’t let artwork and heavy image use turn you away from the potential of reflowable. You can see the original slides of this highly visual presentation here.

Next time: Tech Forum & The Three Caves of Wonder!

Photo by Yvonne Bambrick.