Reading about ePub interactivity

For a couple of reasons I’ve been thinking alot about the idea of ‘digital publishing’ lately. In particular the idea of digital magazines rather than books.

With the Coalition ban on marketing outputs it might finally be the day that there is a significant shift from glossy print publications to genuinely digital formats in the public sector.

While a case can certainly be made that everything should just shift to the web (and god knows I’ve made that case myself enough times) there does also seem to be a genuine demand for a magazine-like, finite digital package in a more readable format than the web alone can provide plus also something that can be easily accessed offline.

The investment by people like Wired and Bonnier in their iPad app magazines is a prime example of this and while they do offer an impressive user experience in my opinion at least they are not the way forward in the long term. They move us further away from an open, standards based web plus they also feel a little bit like those interactive CD-Roms that were the future in the mid-90s before they got squashed by the web!

I started digging into the ePub standard as it is an open standard that is supported by most of the eBook readers and mobile devices one way or another (including the iPad/iPhonet through the iBooks app) and also due to brilliant open source tools like Monocle is also usable via most browsers in a really handy and open source package.

I came across a fantastic blog post and presentation byLiza Daly of Threepress about adding interactivity to ePub. This was really very interesting as with my very superficial knowledge of ePub in the past I thought of it as a very text based standard and hadn’t really considered what could be done with it beyond creating a more readable experience of text. The support for CSS3 allows for some very interesting effects to be embedded – I’m not in favor of supporting Flash but the suggestion that HTML5 canvas might be supported in the future is also impressive. The discussions around security issues and Javascript might take some picking apart but the possibilities offered make it worth a look I feel.

The question I have I guess is how gracefully an interactive ePub magazine would degrade on a reader that didn’t support all the elements? I have no problem with different devices/browsers getting a slightly different offering as far as the interactive elements as long as the content and structure of the ‘publication’ was unaffected.

I also found this blogpost about the experience of creating an ePub magazine for the iPad very useful – especially this quote from Waldo Jaquith the Web Editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review;

Releasing issues of magazines as apps is bad for readers and publishers alike…True, the ePub format is not ideal for magazines…VQR has been around for 85 years. We take the long view. The open, simple, accessible, indexable, archivable ePub format is clearly the best option for us and for our readers.

I also wonder about just how much typographical control you could have over your publications – one of the things I’ve been very interested in on the web recently is how things like Fontdeck combined with HTML5 and CSS3 have been leading to much more design rich sites without needing to use things like Flash.

I will be continuing to explore this area (and well as something else I’ve been toying with around print-on-demand via someone like Magcloud for those people who still prefer an ‘artifact’ rather than something digital) and look forward to seeing it evolve.

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