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Old 11-03-2006, 07:15 PM   #1
Jon Noring
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Proposal for an open source multi-format ebook authoring tool

In a nutshell, as part of the OpenReader Consortium effort, we are interested in an open source application (or plug-in) for authoring simpler types of publications, which allows (almost) pushbutton exporting of the master into a variety of ebook formats including OpenReader, and do so at high quality. This authoring tool would be focused towards the smaller independent ebook publisher.

I have outlined my thoughts and initial requirements for this tool in a series of three articles posted to The eBook Community. The articles:

Overview

For Publishers

For Developers

If anyone here is interested in pursuing this with us, let me know! I can be reached at jon@noring.name, by Skype (sometimes) at 'jon_noring' and phone at 801-253-4037. I also look forward to your comments.
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Old 11-05-2006, 10:09 AM   #2
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Having a single tool convert to multiple formats sounds like a good idea... the next best idea to having everyone read the same format in the first place! It's not much of an issue for me, as I work in small volumes, but even I have to consult my notes each time I do my conversions, to keep the differences in format conversion processes straight. If I worked in large volumes, I could see it driving me crazy...

Jon, my biggest concern would be how well this tool could adapt to changing format standards (or how they were used by the end-user) over time. And with multiple formats to be concerned about, any little change in one of a half-dozen formats (or how an e-reader reads them) could require major rewriting of the tool.

A suggestion: Another way to look at this might be from the other end of the conversion process, that is, the reader end. As opposed to a universal SW tool that converts and exports from one standard format (say, XHTML) to multiple formats, maybe there should be a set of clear guidelines for the e-reader of whatever HW/SW type to import and convert 1-2 standard formats to their proprietary format. In other words, rules that dictate how the elements in the original standard format must be read on the end-user's e-reader, and the e-reader itself does the conversion.

The advantage to this plan is that it does not require the SW tool to adjust every time a new e-reader or doc format comes along, which can be costly and logistically challenging for the standards body, at best. Instead, it is up to the e-reader to conform to the guidelines.

This still allows the consumer the ultimate freedom, that is, to decide which e-reader they want to use based on features. And all that your group needs to be concerned about is the standard format, and the conversion guidelines, and you're done.

I'm not trying to shoot your tool in the foot... but this idea would seem to me to be more practical.

Last edited by Steven Lyle Jordan; 11-05-2006 at 10:13 AM.
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Old 11-07-2006, 02:09 AM   #3
Jon Noring
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan
Jon, my biggest concern would be how well this tool could adapt to changing format standards (or how they were used by the end-user) over time. And with multiple formats to be concerned about, any little change in one of a half-dozen formats (or how an e-reader reads them) could require major rewriting of the tool.
Thanks, Steve, for your feedback.

I think there is a breakdown of communication somewhere (maybe what I wrote in my 3 original articles was not clear. If not, I apologize.)

It is very important to note that the authoring tool will use a specialized and standardized XML vocabulary specifically designed for mastering "simple" books and with universal (or hopefully universal) conversion in mind. Note importantly the word "mastering". The output of the tool will be a master XML document, not any of the target ebook formats. Then secondary modules will convert the master XML into other ebook formats, hopefully with little human interaction. These modules are, technically speaking, separate from the master authoring tool.

Now, this means three things:

First, the vocabulary MUST be purely structurally-based and must NOT be extensible to any significant extent. No presentation-oriented markup at all. So one identifies the structures of the book, not how it is to be displayed (which is ebook format-specific anyway). Since the markup is standardized to a "tee", this means, for each output ebook format, that a public archive of CSS style sheets can be assembled over time, allowing the publisher to pick the styling they want on output (and they are certainly allowed to tweak the CSS for their needs and add that to the public archive if they wish.)

Second, this authoring tool will NOT, and cannot, do all ebook types. Can't be done without building a gawd-awfully complex vocabulary like DocBook or full-blown TEI that makes it essentially unusuable by the average small publisher. The markup vocabulary is intended to do simpler types of books like fiction. I hope it'll achieve the 80-20 or even 90-10 rule for smaller publishers who tend, overall, to publish pretty simple books. In some cases the publishers may curse and swear that the tool won't structure their documents as they'd like, but then again this tool cannot be all things to all people. For the more complex books, the publisher will have to do something different, such as hire someone to do it right, or do it in the current ad-hoc ways, like using Word (and most don't use Word properly, either.)

(But it is hoped that this "Simple Book" tool and associated vocabulary will accomplish two things: help most publishers publish most of their books with simple pushbutton operation, and to spur the development of alternative tools and vocabularies that may do more in the future. Once publishers get used to this tool and gain a basic understanding of what's under the hood, most will be able to graduate to a next level tool which can do more complex things. Ideally, I'm hoping publishers will graduate to being able to markup books in a text editor, since that is quick once one learns how to do it. With a purely structural markup, it is actually quite easy to markup books, much easier than doing web sites.)

Third, when a new output ebook format comes along (hopefully the world will settle on OpenReader!), a module will be built to take the master XML format produced by the authoring tool and convert it to that new format.

A final note. Some people say we should use either some subset of TEI or DocBook for this master XML format since conversion tools already exist to convert those to other things. However, after evaluating the needs and requirements for the master vocabulary and the authoring tool (which I won't go into here), it doesn't look like using TEI or DocBook is the best approach (both vocabularies carry too much unnecessary baggage for what we want to do.) However, what many don't realize is that the master vocabulary will be easily convertable, if needed, to either DocBook or TEI, which then can enter into those already-developed conversion processes.

I hope the above clarifies things.
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Old 11-07-2006, 10:31 AM   #4
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Okay, I'm understanding better (apologies, I'm not a programmer). So, whose responsibility is it to create and update the secondary modules? If that is in the hands of the e-reader developers (as opposed to the authoring tool creators), that would seem to make sense to me.
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Old 11-14-2006, 09:38 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan
Okay, I'm understanding better (apologies, I'm not a programmer). So, whose responsibility is it to create and update the secondary modules? If that is in the hands of the e-reader developers (as opposed to the authoring tool creators), that would seem to make sense to me.
Yes, that is the plan.

The important point to stress is that mastering is done into a strictly-defined markup allowing both push-button conversion plus styling using standardized style sheets. As soon as one allows any markup flexibility, everything gets loosey-goosey and we're back to square one again of tag abuse, and nothing fits with nothing.
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Old 11-15-2006, 09:00 AM   #6
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Is it possible that some bullies using proprietary formats can legally prevent translation?
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Old 11-15-2006, 09:52 AM   #7
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Of course... that's essentially the way iTunes works. iTunes music is in a proprietary format, so they legally dictate how their music files can be used/handled, ie, not converted to MP3, burned to CD. If XYZ Software tries to sell an iTunes-to-MP3 converter, they are violating Apple's proprietary format rights. The same is possible with e-books.

At the same time, we know people will find ways to circumvent such restrictions. The question then becomes, how will those bullies deal with it? Draconian controls? Higher prices? Severe DRM? Or live with it?

It's also up to the consumers to stand up to the bullies and not allow such tactics to control the market, essentially disarming the bullies. So the question becomes: Do you stand up to the bully, or bow to him?

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Old 11-15-2006, 09:58 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Jordan
Of course... that's essentially the way iTunes works. iTunes music is in a proprietary format, so they legally dictate how their music files can be used/handled, ie, not converted to MP3, burned to CD. If XYZ Software tries to sell an iTunes-to-MP3 converter, they are violating Apple's proprietary format rights. The same is possible with e-books.
Um... Nope... AAC is an open-format... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Audio_Coding Apple just adds DRM to it...
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Old 11-15-2006, 10:54 AM   #9
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In this thread someone says that Sony will not accept that Fictionwise can not publish in Sony's format. We still have to wait for development on this.
http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=8597
Is this really legally possible? What if someone wanted to translate it, can they refuse to sell them the rights?
To me, besides the DRM issue, that really looks like shooting oneself in the foot!
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Old 11-16-2006, 11:17 AM   #10
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Quote:
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Um... Nope... AAC is an open-format... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Audio_Coding Apple just adds DRM to it...
Well, it may be standard AAC, but Apple has "modified" it with their added DRM, which is proprietary. (Okay, splitting hairs there...) Anyway, breaking their DRM is still considered illegal in the courts' eyes, so it amounts to the same thing.
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Old 09-06-2008, 03:55 AM   #11
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Old 09-06-2008, 01:49 PM   #12
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There was some talk about such a program, but in the end it all amounted to nothing. Can't find the relevant thread right now.
Anyway, why not base it on epub? As a matter of fact, now with Webkit bundled as part of QT it would be very easy to create an epub viewer and editor that's OS and cross platform. Then it's just a question of adding plugins to convert from various other formats to epub.
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Old 09-06-2008, 05:29 PM   #13
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The is a wiki article on Book authoring software. Please add to it if you have any insight on the authoring process or software.
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Old 09-08-2008, 01:42 PM   #14
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I recently purchased a program that scoops out video and audio files from their containers as long as you own a valid license for the files. DRMed music and videos I purchased are now no longer restricted to a particular device. This program takes the contents and converts to them to the container of your choice. Windows DRMed Media files can now be converted and viewed on Apple products and vice versa.

Personally, I would love to see something like that for ebooks and documents. As long as I have a valid license I should be able to read the document on any device I own. I do not have the programming expertise to do this not by a long shot.
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Old 09-08-2008, 02:08 PM   #15
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I recently purchased a program that scoops out video and audio files from their containers as long as you own a valid license for the files. DRMed music and videos I purchased are now no longer restricted to a particular device. This program takes the contents and converts to them to the container of your choice. Windows DRMed Media files can now be converted and viewed on Apple products and vice versa.

Personally, I would love to see something like that for ebooks and documents. As long as I have a valid license I should be able to read the document on any device I own. I do not have the programming expertise to do this not by a long shot.
I doubt writing software to do that would be legal in the US. Since it would fall afoul of the DMCA.
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