The Association of American Publishers recently reported that adult eBook sales overtook the sale of adult hardback sales. This is big news in the publishing world - the scales are tipping, and we are in the midst of the inevitable rise of the eBook. Of course, one cannot discuss eBooks without talking about format.
There are many, many different eBook formats - from Amazon's KF8, to Apple's iBook, to PDFs, and everything in between; but the new EPUB3 format is rumored to be "the future of eBooks." EPUB is an open standard for eBooks created by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), and is EPUB3 is built on HTML5.
The EPUB 3.0 format was developed to to address criticisms that EPUB was previously unsuitable for publications with special formatting (such as comic books) and lacked specific annotation capabilities and the ability to link to information within the eBook, as well as the need for enhanced language support, metadata support, rich media and interactivity support, enhanced navigation support, enhanced accessibility, and the need to establish a clear relationship to approved national and international standards.
Accessibility has been a major goal of the new version of EPUB, and the IDPF overview of EPUB3 has an entire section dedicated to accessibility specifications covering navigation, semantic markup, dynamic layouts, aural renditions and media overlays, fallbacks, and scripting.
Eric Freese, member of the EPUB3 Working Group lays out the specifications of the EPUB 3 format in his article: "Breaking it Down: the ePub 3 spec." According to Freese, EPUB2's accessibility features were achieved via a combination of EPUB and DTBook, which provided content to assistive technology for the blind and visually impaired; however, with the capabilities of HTML5, DTBook could be done away with. EPUB3 files are therefore, technically, "accessible by design."
However, many publishers fail to incorporate accessibility features into their workflows, leaving accessibility features to be retro-fitted to electronic publications by companies that specialize in the retro-fitting process. Unfortunately, such organizations simply cannot keep up with all of the content being produced, and the amount of accessibile content available is severely limited. In the IDPF overview, the EPUB3 workgroup notes "that while accessibility is important in its own right, accessible content is also more valuable content: an accessible Publication will be adaptable to more devices and be easier to reuse, in whole or in part, via human and automated workflows." It is essential that publishers and other entities producing eBooks realize that accessibility is not only in the interest of consumers who require accessible content, but also to the longevity and adaptability of their content as eReaders, mobile devices, and the means by which we consume electronic media continue to evolve.
The format is already set to be adopted by nearly all popular eReaders, and Amazon is rumored to be investigating offering EPUB on Kindle devices.
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