Ebook empowerment with EPUB3

EPUB3 could yield enhanced ebooks that finally work on multiple platforms.

Julien Simon, CEO and founder of Walrus Books, and Jérémie Gisserot, creative manager and technical consultant at Walrus Books, have been somewhat limited in what they can do with their enhanced ebooks. They’re banking on EPUB3 to change all that.

In the following interview, Simon and Gisserot discuss the advantages of EPUB3 and what they’d like to see developers do next.

Which new features in EPUB3 are most useful for your enhanced ebooks?

JulienSimon2.pngJulien: We are definitely pleased that EPUB3 specs now natively include audio and video — it’s a crucial step for enhanced ebooks. Because EPUB2 did not include these features, developers (mostly Android developers) did not integrate them into their reading applications.

Jérémie: Apple used to have an advantage. Because iBooks was (and still is) using the WebKit graphic engine, Apple was the only one able to offer enhanced reading experiences. Now, with the official launch of EPUB3, we can only hope that developers — especially Android/Windows developers — will go in that direction.

Julien: EPUB3 is not a revolution for Walrus. It’s a step forward. We hope that, thanks to EPUB3 specs, our enhanced ebooks will now be available on different platforms.

What has HTML5 brought to EPUB3?

JeremieGisserot.pngJérémie: HTML5 is a major step forward thanks to localStorage. LocalStorage uses iBooks’ memory to remember your choices, the pages you read, the answers you gave to questions, the points you earned while reading a gamebook, and the parts of the text you chose to unhide.

Julien: Basically it gives a memory to your EPUB file — even when you close the book. This new “brain” is crucial for our gamebook development because the reader’s choices need to be saved. Publishers should really consider localStorage — for us, it’s like stepping on Mars … the only limit is our imagination.

An EPUB3 demo video from Walrus Books

How about CSS3? How do you use it and how well does it work with HTML5 and EPUB3?

Jérémie: As the WebKit graphic engine is used by iBooks, most of the new features brought by CSS3 are well displayed on iPad/iPhone/iPod. We can now reduce the use of “decorative” pictures in our EPUBs. By “decorative” I mean pictures we were displaying to simulate complex layouts to fit with the printed versions of the books. We can now use boxes with rounded corners, shadows, and blurring directly inside the CSS. It’s a way to clean the code and make the book much more flexible. In addition to HTML5 and Javascript, it is a great new tool for us to play with.

What changes do you see EPUB3 bringing to the publishing industry?

Julien: The publishing industry now has a great challenge to meet. Jobs are evolving — they require more flexibility and new knowledge. Young publishing teams will adapt, but in some cases a lot of work needs to be done. There are more tools than ever, both for the publisher and the writer. You now have to consider pictures, audio, video, game play, etc., as new ways to tell a story. And considering that buying an HD camera won’t turn you into a Scorsese-clone over night, a lot of effort has to be put into training and learning.

To some extent, the book-reading experience will be more like watching a movie, playing a video game and using the Internet. When working on a book project, not only will a publisher and a writer sit at the publishing meeting table, but they’ll be joined by a sound designer, a scriptwriter, a director, etc. The publisher’s job will soon look more like a producer’s job.

Why did you opt to produce only for Apple platforms?

Jérémie: Today it’s more of a limitation than a choice. Only iBooks is able to interpret our enhanced EPUBs the right way. We made several attempts on other platforms, but the results were really disappointing — CSS is erased, videos cannot be played, and audio cannot be heard.

Julien: We can’t wait to see developers getting involved with EPUB reading apps and making this technology work with Android, MacOS, Linux and Windows. A lot of work has to be done in that field. Ultimately, however, reading should not be a matter of devices, but of taste.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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