Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Quick Look at the EPUB Document Format

An earlier post took a look at two portable document formats: Adobe’s PDF (portable document format) and Microsoft’s XPS (extensible markup language or XLM paper specification). A reader brought a third standard to my attention, EPUB, which stands for electronic publication.
Definition

Wikipedia defines EPUB as, “A free and open e-book standard, by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Files have the extension .epub. EPUB is designed for "reflowable" content, meaning that the text display can be optimized for the particular display device. The format is meant to function as a single format that publishers and conversion houses can use in-house, as well as for distribution and sale. It supersedes the Open eBook standard.”

EPUB was created primarily for publishing books in electronic formats readable by portable devices. Products that can read EPUB files include the free Stanza Ap for Apple’s iPhone and Mac OSX, the Barnes & Noble Nook electronic book reader and Sony’s eBook reader.
Advantage and Disadvantages

Wikipedia states that the EPUB format works well for text-based books. Firms and individuals publishing novels will find this an attractive way of getting their books out to more people. Let’s face it, many people have very little time or desire to lug hardback books or paperbacks with them. Yet these same people are seldom seen without their smart, Internet-connected phones. A key marketing concept is getting your products out where customers can see and use them. E-books and the EPUB format accomplish this for large firms and self-publishers alike.

However, Wikipedia also states the EPUB format, “is unsuitable for publications which require precise layout or contain advanced formatting. Examples of such publications are comic books and technical books. … Another criticism of EPUB revolves around the specification's lack of detail on linking into, between, or within an EPUB book, as well as its lack of a specification for annotation.”
EPUB Readers

A variety of programs can read EPUB files. Jedi Saber examined and reviewed many of them. The top readers according to this site are:

· Adobe Digital Editions™. Being a Flash application, Digital Editions can run on any Flash-enabled device, including desktop computers and smart phones. Being a Flash application, though, also requires users to load Flash (also an Adobe product) first. Jedi Saber suggests Digital Editions as the best reader for the Windows platform. It is a 5MB download directly from the Adobe site. As a point of interest, Digital Editions’ features are described in a PDF document, not an EPUB file.

· Calibre for Linux. While the number of Linux users pales in comparison to those running Windows or Apple’s OSX, Linux’s following is growing.

· Stanza for the iPhone an Mac OSX. Stanza is a free application (Ap) available for download through Apple’s Ap Store, which is part of its iTunes Store.

· Descriptions of other programs capable of reading EPUB files is available at the Jedi Saber site.
EPUB File Creators

Microsoft Office Word 2007™ cannot create PUB documents, at least right now. Future Office versions, like that expected for Windows 7, may have the ability, though. However, Adobe’s InDesign™ CS4—and to a lesser extent, CS3—can save documents and export them in this format. InDesign allows designers to merge text and graphics into a single document. The method for doing this is explained in this article: http://blogs.adobe.com/digitaleditions/indesign-epub.html. Additional information on ways to create EPUB files can be found by searching for the format within Adobe’s website. These articles are more for people interested in how to program and create these documents rather than the infrequent—and non-techie—user.
Which Format Is Best?

Nothing I’ve read so far about EPUB indicates it’s a serious competitor to Adobe’s PDF format, at least from the standpoint of general document distribution. The PDF standard is very widely accepted and very frequently used by business and laypeople, and for distributing a wide range of documents. A key advantage of PDFs is their ability to accurately present graphics, not just text. Microsoft’s XPS format faces an uphill climb if it wishes to dethrone the PDF as the de-facto portable document standard, mainly because PDFs have been around much longer. The PUB standard’s advantage is limited to text-only documents created for portable (small screen) readers.



Do you disagree? Post a comment for general distribution and let me know. I’m always willing to learn.

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