Everything starts with an E(pub)

Once you get caught up with an idea it sometimes seems like that is all anyone is writing about on the web! This week it has seemed like every link I followed led to more really interesting discussions about eBooks, ePub and digital publishing in general.

I also caved in and purchased one of the latest generation Kindles (despite it not having native support for ePub) to experiment with until I get my iPad in a couple of months.

I guess the big ePub/eBook story this week (at least in my little corner of the web) was the launch of Anthologize as part of the One Week:One Tool project. This is a plug-in for WordPress that takes HTML content and creates (in theory – I haven’t played with it yet) a nice looking eBook in ePub format.

This is brilliant and not dissimilar to the pitch I was giving JISC just a couple of weeks about the digital future of their publications – I have every intention of setting up a WordPress instance so that I can have a play in the next few days. A really great achievement given the time constraints etc so congratulations to all involved.

Also this week Alan Levine blogged about his early experiments with creating a cross platform ePub document. It is clear that this is not a straightforward task and he documents one or two dead ends before coming up with a workable solution that does produce a very nice looking ePub version of the Horizon Report. As he states though it is clear that the tools to create this format aren’t quite there yet and some work needs to be done to make creation and editing more straightforward.

On that note I have also discovered the open source Sigil project. Sigil is an ePub WYSIWYG tool that offers some quite advanced functionality. I have had a brief experiment with it and I’ll be honest I struggled a bit but I am hoping to spend a bit more time this weekend working through a bit of a project to see if I can turn one of JISCs (smaller) reports into a working ePub document and add it to iBooks etc. There may be some swearing involved!

A slightly different post which I really enjoyed on the eBook topic was titled On Covers over on the O’Reilly TOC blog (one of my favourites by the way in this space). This was a post much more focused on the design elements of eBooks and, not surprisingly given the post title, mainly focused on the need to think about a new approach to book covers in the digital environment. Despite the fact I am not really a design or typography nut like some of my friends I thought this was very cool and was inspired by the mainly text + solid colour designs.

I was also interested to read a little about Google Editions and speculation of how that will effect things (though after the total failure of Wave I’m less inclined to think Google have the Midas touch these days!)

OK so that was another link heavy post – hopefully next week I’ll be able to report back about my experiments with Anthologize and Sigil.

9 thoughts on “Everything starts with an E(pub)

  1. Making a basic epub is dead easy, it’s just a zip file with a metadata file and some HTML. I would say Sigil is useful mainly for the metadata additions – I can never remember the XML elements to use!

    I’ve also been meaning to look at Anthologize, but haven’t found the time, so let me know how that goes!

  2. Lucky is good!

    However, while the approach of manually munging XHTML and XML docs is fine for techies, its really not a viable publishing path for most people to use. And the vagaries of what the hardware do or cannot do with a “standard” make it challenging… but its really like the first year of HTML (?)

  3. Matt says:

    It does all feel like the early days of HTML and I don’t exactly remember those fondly🙂

    I’ll see what happens with my experiments with Sigil and Anthologize – I *really* want to use ePub but if I’m going to convince the relevant people at JISC and elsewhere of its worth its going to need to be a bit more usable than it seems at the moment..

  4. Well, you shouldn’t have to manually munge XHTML, Dreamweaver will do it for you quite happily (It would be a good experiment to use Office 2010 to output some XHTML and see what an epub reader makes of it).

    On the Dreamweaver note, I suspect most people would say that even HTML editing tools “aren’t quite there yet” either, so I’m slightly cynical about any proposed tool-based nirvana. Our Press Team at work used an XML-based tool for publishing press releases for years, and they were certainly happy sending us zip files, so the “most people” thing doesn’t seem compelling to me either. Of course, I’m not suggesting that a completely amazing tool couldn’t a) exist and b) expand the use of epub beyond my wildest imaginings, only those types of things don’t tend to come along very often, and people make do in the meantime, if they need to achieve an outcome.

    It seems to me that, for epub creation:

    * there is a learning curve,
    * tools can help,
    * docs are sometimes incomplete or hard to find,
    and, most importantly for me:
    * client apps do not all support the same features in the same way!

    Until that last standardisation can take place, there probably won’t be real progress on the first three.

  5. Matt says:

    yea I saw a blogpost last week – unfortunately my beat up MacBook is still on Tiger so I can’t try the new version out (yet) – am planning on giving it a go though..

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