Making EPUB 3 Publications

This article is an overview of how publications can be created in EPUB 3, the latest version of the EPUB format, a widely used and easily manipulable format for representing digital publications. It’s not a markup-level technical article but covers the landscape option without delving into the details of what’s “under the covers”. Other articles on epubzone.org/blog/developer cover creating EPUB 3 content from a mark-up level perspective. We assume you already know what EPUB 3 is and what kind of content it’s suited for - see Understanding EPUB 3 and What Kind of Content is EPUB useful for?

A number of authoring tools support EPUB export directly from high-end tools like Adobe InDesign CS to consumer-grade tools like Apple Pages for Mac. But, if you expect to press a button in your favourite authoring tool and get ready-to-distribute EPUB 3 files optimised for your content you are likely to be disappointed. In most cases, at least for now, specialised conversion and/or post-processing is required to achieve the best results.

Not all formats can, at present, be automatically converted to EPUB. This is a different situation than PDF, where any document that can be printed can be made into a PDF. Rest assured, this is not an accidental omission! EPUB is a portable document format, like PDF, but because EPUB was designed to represent structured, accessible content it is inherently unsuited to the means that most PDF files are created: capturing a print stream into the equivalent series of final-form pages (which is all a PDF file really is). The latest version, EPUB 3, can represent fixed-layout content, so printer-driver-based EPUB creation is possible in principle (and several solutions support its equivalent, automated conversion of PDF to fixed-layout EPUB). But, for most content, this is a poor choice that would generate miserable EPUB that couldn’t be dynamically adapted to different size screens and would likely be less accessible. For EPUB, with its default of reflowable content that is dynamically paginated on-the-fly, it makes more sense (unless the content you are dealing with is inherently final-form fixed-format pages) to convert an application’s native data model into EPUB, in order to maximise preservation of structure and resulting N-screen support and accessibility.

In addition, EPUB is based on HTML5 and CSS3, supporting the full power of the Open Web Platform. That gives EPUB significant expressive power but creates a wide range of choices. Even PDFs - a straight replica of paper - come in many flavours: press ready “printer’s PDFs”, down sampled “web PDFs”, enhanced PDFs with live links, PDFs with fillable forms etc. EPUB 3 brings the full power of HTML5 to portable documents, but using that great power brings great responsibilities, mainly to make sure you’re doing the right thing to deliver the most readable, engaging experience to your readers. That means “Save as EPUB” may not be sufficient, at least not for eBooks and other commercial publications where engagement with the format and its many options will deliver optimum results.

The good news, however, is that EPUB is a simple, modular format and the constituent components of an EPUB publication can be hand-authored and hand-tweaked using simple text editors and other widely available  tools that support HTML, XML and/or ZIP archives. Anyone with basic Web design skills can create or modify EPUB publications. epubzone.org/blog/developer features a series of more technical articles on best practices for authoring EPUB 3 content.