We ask: Is ePub 3.1 an actual Specification?

16 June 2017

AZARDI, ePub, ePub3.1, IDPF, W3C e-Books

Evaluating the importance and impact of the  new EPUB 3.1 specification.

EPUB 3.1 Slides Onto The Stage

We now have an EPUB 3.1 specification off the blocks. That means we have three jobs to do:

  1. Create the format packager for IGP:Digital Publisher.
  2. Make sure AZARDI:Content Fulfilment handles the secure packaging and delivery of content for bulk secure distribution.
  3. Test and update all the AZARDI Reading systems to handle EPUB 3.1 with sufficient test cases for the target interactive education markets.

A new ePub specification was released on the 5th January 2017. Brilliantly named EPUB 3.1, it is pretty much an unused features/ideas clean-up from past specifications... which is a good thing!

The most important change is the unleashing of CSS and SVG from their previous constraints in an ePub package. With EPUB 3.1 the content tagging and styling now fully aligns with the W3C standards. This is incredibly important for education content around the world.

SPOTLIGHT ON Hello darkness my old friend I've come to talk with you again EPUB 3.1

The Sound of Silence

There appears to be very little (no) EPUB 3.1 market-place dialogue. Perhaps there are exciting private conversations happening in private between thousands of eBook devotees. But from what I have been able to discover:

  • There are no EPUB 3.1 test books.
  • No discussions on Reading Systems and what needs to be done to exploit the unleashing of the W3C standards.
  • No discussions on the changes... the potential... the future. 

Just... nothing. Is it time to get talking and doing ...or not?

AZARDI was the first EPUB3 reader on the market (15 May 2011); and the first EPUB3 Fixed Layout reader (31 Dec 2012) on the market.

At the same time IGP:Digital Publisher was updated and ready to generate all variants of ePub including: ePub2, ePub3+2, ePub3 and ePub3 FXL.

Looks like we have to be first again. Although that isn't such a high bar this time. We are tentatively raising our heads and hoping not to get chopped down!

AZARDI is EPUB 3.1 ready right now.

Can the the Specification Be Used?

Another "big confusion" is that IDPF released the ePub 3.1 specifications on the 5th January 2017. Then on the 30th January the IDPF combined with the W3C. The IDPF site says its web pages are now archives; while on the W3C site the EPUB 3.1 specification documents are now W3C Submission Requests. This means they are not official W3C specifications.

It would appear to be a "NOT" specification right now. But I don't really know for sure. We are bravely plodding on. 

The big changes in summary

If you haven't been following the EPUB 3.1 story here is the changes document -  EPUB 3.1 Changes from EPUB 3.0.1. We will look at the implications and effects of the changes in more detail in a later article. But a first glance at the EPUB 3.1 changes from ePub 3.0.1 are:

  1. Specification reorganization. This of course makes it difficult and time consuming to work out the actual changes between ePub 3.0.1 and EPUB 3.1, but we assume it will be great for future changes.
  2. Attributes (that were never used) have been deprecated. EG: refines="".
  3. Elements  have been removed. EG: <guide> and <bindings>
  4. NCX is marked for removal.
  5. CFI is now optional (although it was never used by anyone).
  6. Dated HTML declarations are dropped in favour of general HTML and SVG.
  7. Supports full CSS and SVG W3C standards. This is the most significant and important change.

What does this mean?

For core linear fiction and non-fiction EPUB 3.1 doesn't change a thing. No new and exciting fiction storytelling methods are expected to emerge from this awesome specification update.

Right now you can change the Version number of your ePub3 and/or ePub3.0.1 books to 3.1 and you are instantly soaring in the new EPUB 3.1 sky. There are a few other nice little touch-ups you can do but that is the big one.

That means opening the OPF file and changing the first line.

    prefix="dc: http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/"

And then zipping it back together again. If you are a true-specification-believer you will instantly know you have made an EPUB 3.1. No EPUB-Check  required. 

AZARDI is EPUB 3.1 ready right now. You can open your fresh new EPUB 3.1 book in AZARDI desktop without any issues. Get your AZARDI Reader here.

The ePub 3.1 Documentation

The EPUB 3.1 documentation has been extensively reorganized.

It wonderfully half-states things with a link to another document where the half-statement is clarified 50%. The BIG deal here is it makes it very difficult to correlate this specification with the previous specifications to understand the implementable details of the changes.

One of the the strengths of the first ePub3 speciification was the quality, completeness and clarity of statements and the tagging examples in the specification. It certainly helped us get to market faster with AZARDI and IGP:Digital Publisher

W3C EPub 3.1 Is A Game Changer

EPub up until now has been a lot of hard work for Education content, especially with content presentation control being killed with no absolute or fixed positioning.

EPUB 3.1 signals that ePub has moved forward from only being a strictly linear-fiction reading or fixed layout presentation system to now supporting more dynamic content engagement experiences. It only took a decade!

Way back then we were highly critical of some weird decisions the IDPF made with ePub3 packaging and we received a lot of flak from some IDPF fellas, even being called an IDPF Troll. (You are not allowed to criticize committee work unless you pay the membership fee.)  But that is the amusing past. Like the IDPF and digital book world in general EPUB 3.1 is being treated in a very relaxed manner.

I have to say it again. The most significant change is all W3C CSS and SVG are included no-holds bar. This is going to be fantastic for education publishers as they will be able to make content come alive as it should in 2017.

Next IGP:Digital Publisher

EPUB 3.1 is just another Format on Demand from the IGP:Digital Publisher perspective. The team is working on the packaging engine for that right now and it will be ready for the next upgrade.

Formats on Demand can be customized and extended for any output package requirement.

The new EPUB 3.1 package will go into the left column with all the other EPUB package variants.

IGP:Digital Publisher will always create the well-formed XHTML EPUB 3.1 package.

EPUB 3.1 in context

IGP are practioners creating digital content production, delivery and reading solutions for hundreds of publishers around the world in dozens of languages. We have a particular focus on interactive education content.

We have had to take the earlier specifications and "features" created by the 1990's focused "IDPF team"; with no implementation, no testing, no market engagement; and turn it into something practical for production, distribution and user content engagement. Do we move ahead or not?

We maintain 100's of thousands of books and documents for hundreds of publishers around the world. Every book is tagged with IGP:FoundationXHTML and stored in IGP:Digital Publisher.

Every book and document can be instantly processed to EPUB 3.1 if and when required. Our new IGP:Formats On Demand bulk processing tools (to be announced shortly) will allow a publisher with his content store in the system to instantly output hundreds and thousands of EPUB 3.1 books (and any other formats) for delivery into the market as required.

Digitize Once. Use Forever

Posted by Richard Pipe

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