What Librarians Need to Know About EPUB3

Wright State University
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What Librarians Need to Know About EPUB3
Sue Polanka
Wright State University - Main Campus, sue.polanka@wright.edu
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Polanka, S. (2013). What Librarians Need to Know About EPUB3. Online Searcher, 70-72.
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Sue Polanka
Wright State University
What Librarians Need to Know About EPUB3 On April 17, 2013, N!SO (National Information Standards Organization) held a
webinar on the EPUB3 standard, EPUB3 and the Future ofInteroperable E-books:
What Libraries Need to Know (niso.orglnewslevents/2013/virtual/epub3/#agenda). I
participated in the webinar, presenting on the advantages and challenges ofEPUB3
adoptionfrom a library perspective. This column expands on the webinar.
Most library patrons are not on a first-name basis w ith EPUB , EPUB3, ibrarians and library users face challenges with multiple ebook formats. The
most common are confusion on the part of users as to what file type they need
and what the file type means, as well as how to download it properly to their devices.
The sheer number of vendor interfaces (particularly those that are housed in a propri­
etary interface) also cause technical difficulties due to format variety and instructions
for use. In fact, in October 2012, Library Journal Patron Profiles reported that 23% of
library patrons were unsuccessful in borrowing ebooks due to technical difficulties.
Libraries, with their strong commitment to service, strive to provide the best user ex­
perience possible and struggle when it comes to downloading ebooks to devices.
The demand for training, troubleshooting, and personal assistance with devices
is a positive side effect from this confusion. Librarians fill this void for many users,
providing services to inform and teach how to efficiently use devices to access
econtent. According to the January 2013 Pew Internet & American Life Project
study, "Library Services in the Digital Age," library staff identified the most popu­
lar services as classes on e-borrowing and on handheld reading devices (libraries
.pewinternet.org/2013/01/22/library-services). Vendors are also supporting librar­
ies and users with training videos, FAQs, and frontHne technical support.
any other ebook file format. Library users, faced with a variety of ebook formats on a regular basis, are prob­
ably unaware of the format they are using. More than likely, a patron's response to
"Would you like that in the EPUB3 format?" would be, "eWhat?" After all, most li­
brary patrons are not on a first-name basis with EPUB, EPUB3, MOBI, KF8, AZW, or
any other ebook file format. They know what device they have, where they bought
it, and what online bookstore they need to visit to purchase content. As for library
content, they probably know that either they need the Kindle format or they don't.
Christopher Platt from The New York Public Library says that his library pa­
trons prefer ebooks that sync to their device of choice without any wrangling on
their part. What's important to them is that the format flow with the type ofdevice
they're using. Platt says, "I don't think they honestly know EPUB3."
EPUB3 is a distribution and interchange format standard for ebooks developed
by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) . It was adopted in 2012,
which was the third major release of the standard. EPUB 2.0, adopted in 2007, and
70 onlinesearcher. net
EPUB 2.0.1, approved in 2010, preceded EPUB3. The EPUB
standard is a successor to the Open eBook Publication Struc­
ture (OEBPS) format, originally developed in 1999. The EPUB
format, primarily EPUB 2.0.l at thjs time, has been adopted by
thousands of publishers and is a major ebook format for trade
materials. EPUB3 adoption is on the rise, and experts are hop­
ing for full-scale international adoption in the near future.
To describe it simply, the EPUB3 format includes, in one
standard, the book content along with style sheets, images,
media, scripts, fonts, and a host of features to provide for
the accessibility of content. One of the best features of the
standard is that it organizes all of the content.
The standard is gaining popularity with publishers and
librarians. Bill Kasdorf, vice president of Apex Content So­
lutions and author of the first chapter in EPUB3 Best Prac­
tices: Optimize Your Digital Books (Garrish, Matt and Markus
Gylling, O'Reilly Media, Inc., 2013, 372 pp.) wrote about the
benefits of organization in the EPUB3 format: "It's designed
to enable reading systems to easily and reliably know, up
front, what's contained in a given publication, where to find
each thing, what to do with it, how the parts relate to each
other. And it enables publishers to provide that information
in one clear, consistent form that all reading systems should
understand, rather than in different, proprietary ways for
each recipient system."
Scott Wasinger, vice president of sales, ebooks, and au­
diobooks at EBSCO Publishing, said this about the EBSCO
ebook collection: "By the end of2013, we expect over 50% of
newly added titles to be in EPUB format rising to over 70%
in 2014." Jamie LaRue, director of the Douglas County (Colo­
rado) Libraries (DCL), told me in an email that almost none
of the 900-plus publishers he collaborates with report either
surprise or difficulty in providing the EPUB format. In fact,
many of the smaller publishers are asking if DCL can handle
EPUB3. Both these examples demonstrate a strong interest
in EPUB from publishers, one likely to transfer to EPUB3.
Two primary advantages ofEPUB3 are openness and flow­
ability. EPUB3 is an open standard that can be consumed on
multiple devices- computers, laptops, tablets, dedicated
e-readers, and smartphones-from multiple vendors. Since
"BYOD" (bring your own device) is a fact of life in libraries
and schools, having a format that meets the needs of mul­
tiple devices is extremely advantageous. EPUB3 is also re­
flowable: It allows the content to adapt to whatever screen
size the user has, unlike a static PDF.
EPUB3 greatly enhances the interactive ability of ebooks as
well. The format can include embedded multimedia, such as
audio and video files. Media overlays can also be used to syn­
chronize audio clips with text in the content document us­
ing SMIL markup. Quizzes and other interactive features can
be added (a huge bonus for textbooks, children's materials,
and reference). EPUB3 also supports MathML (Mathematical
Markup Language). This application of XML describes math­
ematical notations and displays them visually or through text
EPUB3 presents a greater
opportunity for creativity with
content than EPU B2, which was
a close replica of the print.
to speech. Publishers also have the ability to present content
in multicolumn layouts. Language support in EPUB3 pro­
vides for non-Roman scripts, which is one of the keys to in­
ternational adoption of the standard.
The EPUB3 standard was written with accessibility at its
forefront. By incorporating the DAISY (Digital Accessible
Information System) fo rmat into EPUB3, support for full
ebook accessibility is now mainstream. In order for this to
be fully successful, however, publishers will need to inte­
grate these features into content production. Section 4 of
the EPUB3 code (facilitate content accessibility) highlights
the many accessible features of the standard including navi­
gation, semantic markup, dynamic layouts, aural renditions
and media overlays, fal lbacks, and scripting.
Accessibility is extremely important in libraries, which
are being encouraged to purchase fully accessible ebooks.
For example, the Am e rican Library Association's (ALA) Digi­
tal Content Working Group (DCWG) produced the Ebook
Scorecard earlier this year. The scorecard provides 15 evalu­
ative questions for libraries to ask about ebook publishers
and content providers. Libraries are encouraged to rate
these vendors on a scale of 1 to 5 for their ability to meet
the criteria described in the scorecard. One of these relates
to accessibility and states, "Rank the publisher's provision
of accessible ebook content in which 1 indicates no com­
mitment to accessibility and 5 indicates all ebook content
offered is in fu lly implemented DAISY or PUB3 format."
Despite its many advantages, the EPUB3 format faces a
variety of challenges for fu ll-scale adoption. First and fore­
most is Amazon.
According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American
Life Project study"The Rise ofE-Reading" (April 2012), Amazon
holds a 62% market share fore-readers. The Kindle Fire stood
at 14% (second to the iPad) in market share for tablet devices
Amazon's devices are compatible with their own proprietary
ebook format-AZW (KF8 for the Kindle Fire). They are not
compatible with the EPUB format, so users must convert the
EPUB files to a Kindle-compatible .mobi format in order to
read them.
Kindle Fire owners can add EPUB reading apps from the
Android app store to their device, providing a much easier
way to read EPUB content on Amazon devices. If you own
a Kindle Fire, try it yourself. Download the OverDrive Me­
dia Console, connect to a library collection, and download
and read EPUB files on your Fire. You will have to register
your device with Adobe Digital Editions to accommodate
the Adobe DRM system found on most of the downloadable
library content.
Another challenge for EPUB3 adoption is PDF The PDF
has been around since the early 1990s and is a standard in
libraries of all types. Most full-text journal articles are in PDF
as well as many ebooks. This format is simple to implement
in libraries because it is familiar to users. Most personal
computers and library public computers have the Adobe
Acrobat Reader installed, which easily and automatically
opens these files. We know the software, recognize the icon,
and understand how to consume the content.
Library Journa l's annual survey of ebook use in libraries
asks librarians, "In what format do users generally prefer
ebooks?" PDF has been the most requested format in aca­
demic libraries for the past 3 years. While the use has de­
clined over the years, it still reigns king of formats with a
60% preference (EPUB was 30%). Use of PDFs in public and
school libraries has also declined over the past 3 years and is
significantly less popular than in the academic library, com­
ing in at less than 20%.
One reason the EPUB format may not be as highly re­
quested in academic libraries concerns style, specifically
the lack of page numbers. Academics have a difficult, if not
impossible, chore to properly cite the contents of an ebook
in EPUB fo rmat. Kasdorf said in an email to me, "The main
reason it's impossible to cite EPUBs by page number is sim­
ply because print page numbers haven't been captured in
the EPUB. It has nothing to do with the EPUB standard-it
is perfectly easy to capture the page break information in an
EPUB and in fact, it is considered essential for accessibility.
It's just that most publishers don't do it."
The style guides have made accommodations for lack of
page numbers in digital content. The Modern Language As­
sociation's (MIA) Handbook, section 6.4.l, states, "If the work
lacks any kind of stable section numbering, the work has to be
cited as a whole (6.4.1)" (mla.org/style/handbook_faq/cite_
The Chicago Man ual ofStyle allows for a more granular ci­
tation. It says, "Stable page numbers are not always available
in electronic formats; therefore, you may, instead, include
the number of chapter, section, or other easily recognizable
locator" (owl.english.purdue.edu/ owl/ resource/717 /05).
72 onlinesearcher.net
Another challenge for the EPUB3 format is support from
all mainstream e-reading devices. Because many devices
can't support the new format, publishers are reluctant to
produce the content. The Book Industry Study Group (BISG)
closely follows the compatibility of devices, software, and
other e-reading systems with EPUB3. It maintains a support
grid with frequent updates (bisg.org/what-we-do-12-152­
Publishers face many challenges with the adoption of
EPUB3. Margaret Harrison, ebook global supply chain man­
ager at Oxford University Press, shed some light on the chal­
lenges publishers face. According to Harrison, ''As long as
EPUB3 is seen as a sort ofEPUB-plus format-a format that's
separate from EPUB2 rather than simply a new version with
backwards-compatibility (albeit not perfect compatibility)­
the industry will resist it." Harrison thinks an industry-wide
adoption would be accelerated if the IDPF led an industry­
wide migration from EPUB2 to EPUB3, announcing a date
when publishers and conversion partners should stop pro­
ducing EPUB2. This would require close collaboration with
retailers to ensure they will accept the new version. Slow retail
adoption, says Harrison, is another challenge for EPUB3.
Publishers are also a little overwhelmed by the possibili­
ties in EPUB3. EPUB3 presents a greater opportunity for
creativity with content than EPUB2, which was a close rep­
lica of the print. According to Harrison, "Suddenly ebooks
can behave a little more like apps-and everyone who has
worked on an app knows what a meticulous and resource­
intensive undertaking it can be."
This demands the consideration of each individual EPUB
as its own project, which comes with a large price tag for
publishers. Harrison believes the larger trade publishing
houses, such as Random House and Hachette, are well­
equipped to take advantage of the features in EPUB3, as
their content-creation processes have already evolved to
consider ebooks as a separate content output rather than a
copy of the p rint book. The majority of the publishing world,
however, has yet to undergo this transition.
The NISO webinar was an excellent introduction to the
EPUB3 for mat-its advantages, challenges, and specific
makeup. Wh ile it has much to overcome for full-scale inter­
national adoption, it brings plenty of advantages for pub­
lishers, libraries, and users.
One key to full-scale adoption is education. Publishers,
libraries, and everyone involved in the industry need to
be fu lly educated on the standard. As librarians, if we un­
derstand the value of EPUB3, we can begin to request (or
demand) the format from publishers, ushering in an open,
reflowable, and accessible format for our users.
Sue Poumka is head of reference and instruction, Wright State Uni­
versity Libraries, and biogs at No ShelfRequired.
Comments? Email the editor-in-chief(marydee@xmission.com).