EPUB3 and HTML5 today have become an integral part of the e-publishing landscape. Both these are excellent examples of technology/industry standards that have evolved over time and converged to bring about a vast change in digital publishing. EPUB and HTML started off as independent standards targeted towards fundamentally different end user applications. But end-user demands on how they access and consume content have completely changed the dynamics of the digital publishing industry.
The relationship between EPUB3 and HTML5 is so strong that it would be appropriate to say that the EPUB3 standard relies heavily on the HTML5 standard. The EPUB3 standard has been published by International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). HTML5 is a markup language whose specifications have been developed by Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The primary objective of the EPUB specification was to define a content interchange format for digital publications based on XML and web standards. The HTML5 standard subsumes previous versions of HTML, and provides a standardized approach to incorporating multimedia and graphical content (audio and video) in web applications. The EPUB3 specification embraces HTML5 and CSS3, thereby providing a facility for publishers to deliver media rich, interactive e-books to its readers. While the EPUB standards are more specifically tied to the publishing industry, the HTML5 standard is developed around the needs of the global information and communications technology industry.
Advantages of EPUB 3 Using HTML 5
Apart from other enhancements when compared to earlier versions, the HTML5 standard broadly incorporates the following new syntactic elements:
- Support for incorporating Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)
- Support for incorporating MathML (mathematical formulas)
- CSS 3 support
All of these enhancements contribute in one way or the other to the EPUB 3 standard so as to deliver the following advantages:
- Enhanced support for styling and layout: CSS3 support ensures that EPUB3 now separates content from the presentation mechanism. The way content is displayed could be managed based on user preferences, type of device being used, or even the geographic location of end users.
- Global Language Support: One of the enhancements of HTML 5 was vertical writing (typically encountered in Japanese language publishing), and right-to-left spine progression (typically encountered in Japanese and Arabic language publishing). By incorporating HTML5, EPUB3 now opens up a prominent segment of the e-publishing market.
- Enhanced Media Support: EPUB3 supports the inclusion of audio and video elements that make the content richer. Enhanced support for media overlays ensures that there is a more standardized, publication wide support for synchronization between text and audio voice over.
At the date of this writing, digital publishers encounter the need predominantly for EPUB 2 support, since a large chunk of the e-books being sold today are fiction and text centric titles that currently do not need the level of enhancements promised by HTML5. However, when we consider the case of e-text books, for instance, it is a natural progression to include integrated assignments, 3-D models, and media content to guarantee a richer reading experience. It would hence be appropriate to say that the day is not far off when users will demand a richer experience when accessing content, regardless of the end user application.
The importance of EPUB3 and HTML5 can also be viewed from the perspective of long term benefits. The American Association of Publishers (AAP) has recently announced an aggressive initiative to promote EPUB3 standard as the accepted global distribution format for e-books. Dubbed the EPUB3 Implementation Project, its goal is to rapidly advance the adoption of EPUB3 by publishers and retailers over the next six months and have publishers release a large number of titles to the marketplace that use the standard in the first quarter of 2014. The simple reason for this push from AAP is that readers are inevitably going to demand more interactivity and richness from the content they access, if not on the short term, definitely on the medium to long term.
Technical aspects aside, the main strategic advantage of adopting EPUB 3 using HTML 5 for digital publishers is twofold: at one end of the spectrum, they will be relevant in the market place, and at the other end of the spectrum, they will be well positioned to address the needs of a significant chunk of the market.
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