[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 111, Issue 8

adamhyde adam at flossmanuals.net
Sun Mar 2 02:44:38 EST 2014

On 03/01/2014 02:58 AM, Michael Dieter wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> But how does great epub design look like? I didn't see much of it yet except to actually start 'think icon'. Could you bring up some examples here?
> Am interested in this as well.
> EPUB3 has a lot of new affordances, but haven't seen a lot of people
> really exploring what's possible. The media overlays seem like they
> could be worth messing around with. Maybe Adam has some tips here (if
> he's following the list this weekend).

So...to think about good EPUB design you have to think like a web 
designer. This is the interesting thing these days, are books designed 
by 'book designers' (traditionally locked into DTP and fixed page size) 
or are they to be designed by web designers (more familiar with flowable 
page design environments) and HTML.

Its a kind of curious question to ask - what is the root design 
approach? Its relevant here because EPUBs are not books, they are just 
HTML. All the fixed page layout blah blah of EPUB3 is really, IMHO, is 
there to placate those designers who cannot think in flowables. Its a 
very stubborn feature of the spec. Fixed size pagination is dead and we 
should let it go. Thats not to say paper book design is dead but to say 
we need to start thinking about the paper page as one form factor 
amongst many and use the same tools to design paper books as we do 
EPUBs. We need to think about design as re-flowable information 
regardless of weather the final artifact is a paper book or an 
electronic book, an app or a website. To think like that is to think in 

Interestingly, while many are hoping for some form of fixed page (book 
page) in EPUB and hoping against hope that this 'important' remnant of 
the legacy printing era will survive in electronic books, the important 
issue is pagination not fixed page sizes/layouts. Pagination is not just 
important for ebooks but increasingly HTML in the browser is becoming 
paginated. A lot of libs that support resizing, flowing etc that are 
being built to support mobile devices (mostly phones and tablets, not 
'books') and these are having quite an effect on webpage design. A good 
example is snow fall of course 
but you can see many examples...here is one I just googled:

The above are experiments with pagination in 'single page' websites. 
That is, IMHO, where things are going and its being driven by the need 
for pagination not in books but for managing information in small screen 
devices. Right now its all about pagination and we should see pagination 
of flowables as the central design issue not fixed page layout.

All of these pagination features are enabled by Javascripts and mostly 
for use in mobile web browsing devices (and many apps use webkit as a 
lib for information display) but all of this is also possible in EPUB. 
And not just EPUB3. What many people forget, and this is why I posed the 
question to Florian about the HTML engine as a flowable typesetting 
engine for print and electronic media, is that in many situations the 
renderer in ereaders *is* a browser. iPad iBooks uses (a hacked up) 
webkit which is the engine behind chrome. So you have always been able 
to use JavaScripts etc in EPUB (JS, along side fixed page layout, was 
one of the promises of EPUB3)....so I increasingly get confused about 
why there is all this fuss about 'container' formats. EPUB is just a 
container format - it is infact a portable website. Bill McCoy, 
presidento of the IDPF (keeper of the EPUB standards) calls them 'a 
website in a box'. If we could talk more frequently about them this way 
we would be able to understand what is actually happening here and what 
is possible.

Personally....I think EPUB is artificial. There is no difference between 
the web and an ebook and there shouldnt be. The following is just one 
project of many that actively blurs that distinction - http://readk.it/. 
If you are confused by that project its because ebooks are artifice but 
you don't know it yet. The whole idea of an ebook is essentially being 
maintained because you can sell it. You can sell books, even ebooks, but 
you cant sell websites.

So if you ask me what good EPUB design looks like I will say it looks 
like good web design.

If you want to try some ebook design download one, change the suffix 
from 'epub' to 'zip' and then unzip it. Get out a text editor and go to 
town...(you need a non DRM ebook to do this, try the one linked from 
here if you dont have one 


> There's also the ongoing issue of compatibility with devices, EPUB3
> had a terrible adoption rate, not sure if it's improved on the
> hardware vendor side, but certainly a lot of publishers are still on
> the older version.
> Yeah, also reminds me, I spoke with representative of a major academic
> publisher a couple of months ago about some of this stuff, after they
> were really hyping their digital publishing services. I asked whether
> they had moved to EPUB3 - the response was that they had no idea, it
> was the first time anyone had ever asked a question like that, and so
> they would have to find out and get back to me. They also had no in
> house digital design team, everything was being outsourced.

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