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Old 01-14-2009, 06:54 PM   #1
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NOTE : Recently there was some discussion about why it's so important to have a standard format for ebooks, and why epub is better than other formats. It occurred to me that probably a lot of people have questions about this, so i thought i would make a new reference thread to serve as a repository for information and answers. to start, i'm copying the conversation from the other thread over here. there is probably plenty more information to add so this will be a work in progress.


I also highly encourage you to read this thread, where the discussion began.


Without further ado, what is so great about epub :



well, i agree that epub is just starting out and has a long way to go, of course. but i do think it has a very good chance of becoming the de facto standard, because it does have the support of some pretty important players already including most of the major publishing houses (in fact, some publishers which are just starting to provide their books in digital format are *only* publishing epub books).

the fact that sony devices can read it natively is also a very big deal, given that sony is among the oldest ebook device makers, and there are a lot of sony devices out there ! ipods / iphones can also read epub books, using stanza, and there are a LOT of those out there ; feedbooks distributes something like thousands (or was it more ?) epub books every day.

natively is not the only way to support it though : mobipocket (and therefore amazon, who owns mobipocket) actually does already support (drm-free) epub, in the sense that the mobipocket desktop reader will already convert it to mobi format (if you have the mobi destop reader installed, double-clicking any epub file will automatically launch the conversion, and when it's done it will be displayed in the reader), effectively making any mobipocket-capable device an epub-capable device. (all you kindlers : you can read epub books on your kindle ! and it's probably the most painless conversion of all of them !) given that mobipocket is a competing format, i suspect that's probably as good as we can hope for, but i think it's actually quite reasonable, since epub is designed to be a source AND end format. ETI also supports epub and the eb1150 will also support epub by converting it to the native imp format (well, we eb1150ers are used to having to convert everything ). it's an extra step but it does open up a whole new format to these devices, which is not to be sneezed at. between the sony, the ipod / iphone, and all the mobipocket-enabled devices out there, there is a pretty huge potential audience for epub.

someone (sorry, i can't remember just now who and i'm feeling too lazy to go back and find the post... ) mentioned drm earlier. i wholeheartedly agree that drm is the scourge of all things digital, and ebooks are no exception. however, this is true of drm on *all* formats, not just epub, and i do also think it's important to keep that issue separate from epub as a standard format.

i imagine that to some of you the notion of standard formats is pretty abstract and seems relatively trivial or irrelevant ; i'm a webdesigner though and non-compliant browsers and code (which don't respect the webstandards, defined by W3C which is the web equivalent of idpf) are the bane of my existence. a standard format is sort of the webdesigner's holy grail, and it's really clear to me how important it is to have a standard format for ebooks too. that's why i support epub in every way i can as of now, even though the tools for creating and displaying epub are not yet perfect, and even though the format itself is still being defined. even in its current state it is already much better than the existing formats in so many ways, and it will only get better. even if currently it doesn't suit your needs i think that the support of consumers as well as the industry is important, and a standard format is in your best interests too, so i do hope you will at the very least keep checking back to see how it evolves, and support it in whatever way will fit into your reading habits.
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Old 01-14-2009, 10:22 PM   #2
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even in its current state it is already much better than the existing formats in so many ways, and it will only get better. even if currently it doesn't suit your needs i think that the support of consumers as well as the industry is important, and a standard format is in your best interests too, so i do hope you will at the very least keep checking back to see how it evolves, and support it in whatever way will fit into your reading habits.
My big question is what is the goal of epub?

Before there was oeb which was not a single file like epub, but a package that was then compressed - and possibly drm'ed - in prc, imp, lit, possible other formats (embiid??. lrf??)

Of course you could use oeb directly - for example my 770 can read a properly packaged oeb, by using the opf file as "base" and especially before the prc reading capability was introduced, I would explode a lit file in the oeb package and just put it like that or zipped on the 770. When Fbreader could handle (non-huff, non-drm) prc I would usually go one step further and use the Mobipocket Creator to get the prc file since it was more compact.

So is epub intended to be used like oeb, namely basing proprietary formats on it - here we may not need compression, but every firm can put its incompatible drm on it for example - or is epub as it stands/develops further is to be a unique format readable on all devices drm or no drm...??

The second thing is something I am very doubtful of.

The first who knows, it's possible but what do we gain from the current state other than more capabilities in the underground machinery that as a consumer I do not see anyway...

We would still have incompatible formats for various devices since that is not a technical issue but a social one.

Right now we could have all devices reading drm Mobipocket which is probably the easiest to adapt, if the will was there.
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Old 01-14-2009, 10:48 PM   #3
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So is epub intended to be used like oeb
EPub is the next generation OEB. The .epub "container" is just a ZIP of all the files making up the ebook and like the original OEB it has an .opf metafile.

There were multiple goals for ePub. Publishers wanted a single master format to target (somewhat like using OEB as the master to LIT and MOBI). Readers wanted to use the format directly on their devices. One issue with "ePub direct to Reader" is that it is relatively resource heavy to render ePub to a screen. So the first crack in ePub standards are the limitations on file sizes imposed by Adobe Digital Editions for rendering on handheld devices (like the PRS 505). The alternative is to add an off-line ePub to device format step. MobiPocket appears to be following this route (which is allowed by the ePub standard). The problem that MobiPocket has is that MOBI is now seriously out of date, and isn't powerful enough to even come close to fully supporting ePub. The new oeb2mobi (really epub2mobi) capability in Calibre will be exploring how close MOBI can come to displaying ePub. A limitation that Calibre faces, though, is that the MOBI format needs to be updated to better support ePub and only MobiPocket can do this. Even MobiPocket will find this difficult, because they have to update multiple reader software packages for multiple device types.

EPub includes a specification of how to apply DRM to the ebook, but it does not standardize the DRM itself. So far only Adobe is adding DRM to ePub, but there is already talk of eReader DRM on ePub. For publishers this is ok, since it is the same ePub with multiple incompatible DRM schemes (provided downstream, for a charge, by a 3rd party). It is a nightmare for consumers though.
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Old 01-15-2009, 09:36 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Liviu_5 View Post
My big question is what is the goal of epub?

(...)

The first who knows, it's possible but what do we gain from the current state other than more capabilities in the underground machinery that as a consumer I do not see anyway...

We would still have incompatible formats for various devices since that is not a technical issue but a social one.

Right now we could have all devices reading drm Mobipocket which is probably the easiest to adapt, if the will was there.
wallcraft has already addressed your question of what is the goal of epub, so i won't elaborate on that. i would add that standard formats are in everyone's best interests because :

- for publishers, it means a simplified workflow as they have only to produce *one* format, which can if necessary be converted to a different end format like mobipocket (even locally by the user), or can be read natively on some devices. this means that it will become easier and cheaper to produce ebooks, which should mean more ebooks being created.

- for bookstores it means simplified inventory management and file serving, since they could conceivably (one day) need to offer only one format which would be accessible to all readers.

- for readers, it means a much broader selection of ebooks available to them, either by reading the file natively (currently sony, iphone, soon jetbook, soon others as well) or by easily converting it (currently all mobipocket devices, eb1150...), and the end of ebabel and incompatible formats (again, leaving aside the problem of drm, which is not specific to epub).

- for readers (again) it also means a library of ebooks which is "future proof" ; if epub is a standard format, it means if today you buy a sony and build up a library of epub books you read on it, but next year you buy a different device, your library will still be accessible to you on the new device (which is not the case with closed, proprietary formats like lrf, imp, even mobipocket, etc.). in addition, epub is based on xhtml and css style rules ; this can be displayed by any web browser and a number of other applications.

currently it's true that mobipocket format is very widespread however i would not be satisfied with a mobipocket device ; the mobipocket format may be common but it's also out of date and flawed. css styles used by epub allow for much more complete formatting capabilities. for example, in epub you can "float" images inline with the text, this means you can have an image to one side of the screen with the text flowing along side it. in mobipocket, this is impossible : all images must be inserted in between two blocks of text. you can see three examples of this in the photos in this post. you can also make drop caps, which is impossible in mobipocket. epub also can use vectorial images (svg) and the capability to incorporate audio or video clips (or pretty much any file you want) already exists and will make for some really interesting multi-media enriched reference texts (for example) as soon as the viewers catch up.

in addition mobipocket uses outdated html code further modified with proprietary mobipocket code. this means that depending on which device / version of the viewer you use the results can be unpredictable. it also means that converting mobi format to another format will not give clean results and will need extensive further work. here is one explanation of why mobipocket format is inferior to epub. here is another. there are plenty more but i don't have time to search for them right now.
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Old 01-15-2009, 12:20 PM   #5
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- for readers, it means a much broader selection of ebooks available to them, either by reading the file natively (currently sony, iphone, soon jetbook, soon others as well) or by easily converting it (currently all mobipocket devices, eb1150...), and the end of ebabel and incompatible formats (again, leaving aside the problem of drm, which is not specific to epub).
Two great posts above and I truly appreciate them, but the above paragraph is just a pipe-dream in my opinion. Drm-free, yeah, but then we have html, rtf, txt, pdf already, and while epub is more sophisticated from what I understand, it's just a matter of degree. And the technical problems with device rendering are still there as I saw it first hand on my 700, where epub is pdf like in speed and then why not use reflowable pdf, what do I gain? I can convert faster to reflowable pdf with open_office_org. And the 700 is a powerful device as e-reading ones go...

I sort of believe that this technical limitations will be overcome but the drm issue is social and economic and there is where I think epub as universal standard is just a pipe dream...

I profoundly doubt that you will be able to read drm epub on any device. I just do not think that drm works that way - not technically of course, but socially and economically
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Old 01-15-2009, 04:02 PM   #6
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Two great posts above and I truly appreciate them, but the above paragraph is just a pipe-dream in my opinion.
i prefer the term "optimism." but seriously, i don't think it will happen overnight but i do think it will happen eventually. i think that in some cases the epub will be converted (mobipocket, imp...) but if the conversion is accomplished "invisibly" in the background the first time you open the file, as mobipocket reader does, then to the end user there's not a significant difference.

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Drm-free, yeah, but then we have html, rtf, txt, pdf already, and while epub is more sophisticated from what I understand, it's just a matter of degree.
well, i guess you can put it that way, but there's a pretty huge difference between any of those and epub, so much so that i don't even see the point of comparing it to, say, txt. and pdf being a format specifically designed for *print* it has some very obvious shortcomings when used as an ebook format, even when it is formatted for a small screen. you *can* compare it to html, because it's based on html + css, but even in that case it brings more sophisticated possibilities than html alone.

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And the technical problems with device rendering are still there as I saw it first hand on my 700, where epub is pdf like in speed and then why not use reflowable pdf, what do I gain? I can convert faster to reflowable pdf with open_office_org. And the 700 is a powerful device as e-reading ones go...
i'm not really sure what you mean by that. epub is very fast for me, the majority of what i'm reading is epub and i've no problems with delays in page turns or opening the books. pdf is acceptably fast as well, however the pdfs i've tried gave me an inferior experience because of their specific limitations : it's great to be able to reflow pdf if you're obliged to, but when you do that you lose some formatting of the page. i'd much rather read a format which is conceived specifically to be reflowable, rather than has reflow capability hacked into it after the fact. as for creating epub books, using calibre, i can create an epub for my own use with minimal effort in a few seconds from practically any other format. if i want to start from scratch and make a really nice quality epub it takes a bit longer but that is true of any format. i've not tried creating a pdf with open office but i imagine it's comparable or longer.

Quote:
I sort of believe that this technical limitations will be overcome but the drm issue is social and economic and there is where I think epub as universal standard is just a pipe dream...

I profoundly doubt that you will be able to read drm epub on any device. I just do not think that drm works that way - not technically of course, but socially and economically
here, i agree with you : one of the really big problems with ebooks currently is drm. BUT 1. that's not limited to epub, 2. it doesn't prevent you from reading non-drm files (if i want to buy a drm book, which i try to avoid when possible, i buy lit format, remove the drm, and convert this to epub) and 3. just like drm is being abandoned on digital music, i am really convinced it's only a matter of time before we manage to get rid of it on ebooks as well. how much time, i don't know ; hopefully it won't take as long as it took the music industry. we will see. and once ebooks are sold without drm (which is *already* the case for certain publishers !), then there is nothing stopping you from reading epub on whatever device you want.
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Old 01-15-2009, 04:28 PM   #7
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Regarding slowness maybe it's just that the epub's I made with Calibre were not that great since Calibre is a work in progress after all - though truly wonderful

I sort of agree that *eventually* we will move beyond drm, but that *eventually* will involve hard external pressure on the publishers the way p2p forced the music labels hand, and I am not sure where it will come from.

Before my 770 was Mobi capable, I avoided that format, then I was happy with it, while on the 700 I am happy with lrf for now, but as/if epub matures and tools become better, I have nothing against using it.

When I had the Eb1150, I bought the librarian software and happily converted lots of books to imp so whatever works I use, no "format bias" here.

My original skepticism about epub is that I've been hearing these claims of universality for a while, and in the meantime, guess what, Sony came with another proprietary format, Amazon with another pseudo-format (the renamed Mobi with its own drm servers), Ereader is still going strong with FW, Lit is also going strong, only embiid seems to have died and imp is limping unless ETI comes up with a modern Eb1150-like device
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Old 01-15-2009, 08:57 PM   #8
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Regarding slowness maybe it's just that the epub's I made with Calibre were not that great since Calibre is a work in progress after all - though truly wonderful
of course any app that brings out new versions practically every day is a "work in progress" and the epub support is officially beta ; it's nonetheless already really good and definitely good enough for personal use (i speak from experience). i don't know how recently you tried it or what sort of file you were reading (novel, rss feed, manga...) but you should definitely check it again. you can also try some of the books in our spanking new epub forum (yay !), some of which have been hand-coded, some of which created with calibre, others using different methods. i've found them to be really nice to read.
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I sort of agree that *eventually* we will move beyond drm, but that *eventually* will involve hard external pressure on the publishers the way p2p forced the music labels hand, and I am not sure where it will come from.
well, please remember that as a consumer and ebook reader the pressure can come at least partially from *you*. you can write to publishers and tell them you hate drm (and why) and prefer drm-free ebooks. you can vote with your pocketbook, as they say, and support publishers making drm-free books available (there are some already). and i see you live in new york : i hope you've written to the FTC commission about DRM.
Quote:
Before my 770 was Mobi capable, I avoided that format, then I was happy with it, while on the 700 I am happy with lrf for now, but as/if epub matures and tools become better, I have nothing against using it.

When I had the Eb1150, I bought the librarian software and happily converted lots of books to imp so whatever works I use, no "format bias" here.
that's good news. epub should let you use whatever format you prefer, and also ensure that if you want to re-read your books on a different device, they will still be accessible to you. i'm sure you know that this is not possible with many formats (imp !). this is one of the biggest reasons i'm in favor of epub ; i hate the idea of an ebook being lost to me because it's in a closed, proprietary, and obsolete format. every time i made an imp format book i always kept my source files, for that reason.
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My original skepticism about epub is that I've been hearing these claims of universality for a while, and in the meantime, guess what, Sony came with another proprietary format, Amazon with another pseudo-format (the renamed Mobi with its own drm servers), Ereader is still going strong with FW, Lit is also going strong, only embiid seems to have died and imp is limping unless ETI comes up with a modern Eb1150-like device.
yes, you are right, there are too many formats currently, and amazon creating yet *another* (closed, proprietary...) one, when they own mobipocket already, is the major reason i wouldn't buy a kindle even if i lived in the US (the other reason being, no epub support, of course. ).

that's another reason i think it's important to garner support from all quarters for epub early on, so it will gain momentum quickly as a standard. the more people adopting it early, the more popular it becomes, the more seriously even the epub-refractories will be obliged to take it, and the closer we really will get to one universal format. it's off to an excellent start already, but every little bit helps.

if you want a robust, future-proof, universal, standard ebook format (and really, how could you not ?), then i think the best way to show that is to start using the one we actually have already, even though it's still in development.
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Old 01-17-2009, 09:32 PM   #9
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Here's why ePUB is the best format, according to me:

-it's compressed, but in the most supported, easy to use format.
-it's non-binary, which means I can make the entire thing in notepad.
-it's one file, so things are nice and convenient.
-all the formatting is already known, used, and standardized, so no new languages to learn.

As far as I'm aware, no other format fulfills that criteria, so... Yeah. It's the best format.
Cheers!

-PS: it's also kinda corruptible proof, as no you have multiple parts in there.
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Old 01-18-2009, 04:07 AM   #10
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Let's not neglect the "elephant in the room" when it comes to ePub, and that's DRM.

I think personally that, in permitting anyone to "bolt on" their own DRM method to an ePub file (and still call the result "ePub") the standards committee made a disastrous error.

At the moment we have ePub files with "Adobe Digital Editions" DRM. Shortly we'll also have ePub files with "eReader" DRM. In a year's time we could have other DRM methods as well. It's a recipe for disaster as far as the end user is concerned, with multiple, mutually-incompatible files all claiming (truthfully) to be "ePub" files.

One cannot just pretend that DRM doesn't exist, or that it's going to go away. It's with us, whether we like it or not, and it's going to be for the foreseeable future. I think personally that the ePub standard has messed up "big time" in this specific area, much as I support the overall concept of ePub as a standard in other areas.
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Old 01-18-2009, 10:38 AM   #11
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Harry, you are right that DRM is a big problem, however as i've said countless times before, it's not limited to the ePub format and it's really not constructive to mix the two issues, particularly as there are already major publishers selling completely DRM-free ePub books (PanMacMillan, for example).

DRM is a problem but it is it's own problem, and as you would have seen if you had read the previous posts in this thread, i am talking about drm-free epub, that is, the format itself.

please let's try to stay on-topic in this thread, i intend it as a reference and i don't want to muddy the discussion with other issues.
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Old 01-18-2009, 11:00 AM   #12
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Whilst I agree epub is laudable and worthwhile concept and provided it does achieve its aim of being a 'universal' standard, how does it "fit" with current reading devices....and their current multiplicity of formats - and how easy will it be to pursuade Amazon and Sony to endorse it on their products I wonder....
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Old 01-18-2009, 11:01 AM   #13
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Whilst I agree epub is laudable and worthwhile concept and provided it does achieve its aim of being a 'universal' standard, how does it "fit" with current reading devices....and their current multiplicity of formats - and how easy will it be to pursuade Amazon and Sony to endorse it on their products I wonder....
might i humbly suggest you read the preceding posts on this thread, because that is precisely what they are talking about.
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Old 01-18-2009, 11:12 AM   #14
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Ah - Ok - I stand corrected on some of the mentionables in previous posts above - however they all infer that the epub format has to be converted - does that not negate the issue of epub being "The Standard".
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Old 01-18-2009, 11:17 AM   #15
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Ah - Ok - I stand corrected on some of the mentionables in previous posts above - however they all infer that the epub format has to be converted - does that not negate the issue of epub being "The Standard".
no, epub does not *have* to be converted : as of today the sony 505 and 700 and the ipod touch can read it natively, and other companies have announced that they will support epub on their new devices.

however, since epub CAN be a source AND end format, it can ALSO be easily converted to other formats, if your device does not currently support it. for instance ETI (the makers of the eb1150) will support epub by providing a conversion tool that can accept it as a source format (the eb1150 can only read the .imp format natively), and mobipocket desktop reader will already convert epub to mobi format.

see the first post of this thread.
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