EPUB has become the gold standard for e-books globally in the three years since the International Digital Publishing Forum—the organization that created it—became part of the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). The consortium has made a lot of progress in supporting and improving the standard under the auspices of its Publishing@W3C activity. EPUB is now the primary format for accessible books, and the W3C has also created a formal specification for audiobooks that is being rapidly adopted by audiobook publishers and reading systems.
Now the W3C is moving to the next phase of its Publishing@W3C work. Last week, during a pair of webinars, six speakers from around the world—all of whom have been important contributors to the publishing activity—presented plans for the next generation of Publishing@W3C, which will start up in September. Publishing@W3C will still have three groups, but they are being redefined and refocused.
Significantly, an EPUB 3 Working Group is being formed to ensure a strong and stable future for the standard, which is the foundation of a billion-dollar industry. The new group will be devoted to supporting EPUB by focusing on reading system conformance, development of a long-needed test suite, advancing accessibility, ensuring backward compatibility, and continuing to refine EPUB 3 with the goal of making it an official W3C Recommendation, which would give it formal status internationally.
The EPUB 3 Community Group will be succeeded by the Publishing Community Group (CG), whose mission will be to incubate new ideas. That is where the scope of the Publishing@W3C work can broaden—into scholarly, educational, and children’s publishing; comics and manga; magazines; or whatever a group of folks want to form a task force to work on. (Anyone can join a W3C community group—unlike working groups, which are composed of W3C members.) The CG is a bridge between the publishing community and the technical groups in the W3C, including those working on HTML, CSS, accessibility, and the many other web standards important to publishing.
Accessibility is a high priority in all this work. EPUB 3 is designed to be “born accessible.” The Accessibility Task Force in the CG will ensure that the EPUB accessibility spec aligns with developments in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines; advance the use of accessibility metadata; publish techniques and best practices; and align with the requirements of the E.U. Accessibility Act.
The Publishing Business Group will continue to provide business insights to guide the CG and the EUPB 3 Working Group, and to support Publishing@W3C’s work. For example, the business group recently raised funds for a major update to EPUBCheck, which is widely used to ensure the conformance of EPUBs.
One of the Publishing Business Group’s recent successes was a survey to help Publishing@W3C understand how the publishing community uses EPUB and what improvements are needed. More than 250 respondents—40% publishers, 40% users, and 20% service providers such as developers and vendors—provided a wealth of useful information.
Some 84% of publishers that responded use EPUB 3 as a primary format for their e-books and test their EPUBs with EPUBCheck. But most publishers still struggle with executing complex formats, and they find that production tools don’t output easily maintainable files. Reader respondents, a majority of whom get their EPUBs from retailers, find many EPUBs to be of poor quality; they see them as a publishing afterthought. Developers and reading systems that responded are eager to contribute to testing both EPUBs and reading system conformance, which should help address these issues. And while awareness of accessibility is high, implementation is inconsistent and hard to test.
The survey provided valuable feedback, and the results have been incorporated into the charter for the new EPUB 3 Working Group and passed along to the CG for incubation.
Two compelling messages came out of the webinars: it is important to support EPUB, on which so much of book publishing depends, and many more sectors of publishing beyond the trade segment could be better supported.
Bill Kasdorf is principal at Kasdorf & Associates and a PW columnist.