Sunday, April 7, 2013

The future of digital Books - how will they look like?

By: Rotem Segal, Helicon Books Product Manager

The field of textbooks is moving into the future and taking one step ahead with the EPUB3 standard for digital books. EPUB3 standard represents a technological breakthrough by its new capabilities and features.
 There are some readers in the market which support the epub3 standard, one of them is the Gitden Reader. Another reader belongs to Sony, and Kobo has also announced that they will launch an EPUB3 reader during the end of the year, so how the new content will look like?

 The new technology is going to promote the entire field of educational content and textbooks. The common standard of EPUB2 mainly supports fiction books such as literature and simple images, so advanced content such as interactive images, mathematical features, and advanced graphical technology were absent . The new EPUB3 standard supports new features such as MathML- mathematical formulas, SVG and interactive SVG, interactivity, Media Overlay (speak aloud) and videos.

 Language textbooks
the new option of media overlay enables the reader to mark a statement, word or letter and pronounce it by audio. Thus when a pupil link on a word – it is shine and pronounced. Of course that videos and interactivity will add fun and interest to the act of learning.

Math textbooks
The new MathML feature enables the appearance of geometrical shapes, equations, and function graphs.

 Electronic dictionaries are available today in a propriety format, but not in EPUB. The new dictionaries standard of EPUB3 will enable publishers to publish both glossaries inside the book and also stand alone dictionaries. Dictionaries can either be monolingual, bilingual or multilingual which is special to EPUB3. As of this writing the EPUB3 dictionaries standard is in its final stages. We expect it to be approved by the IDPF board around May 2013.

Many textbooks traditionally contain index. Some people today claim that because of the reader search capability an index is redundant. However, in many cases a simple search will return many irrelevant results. An index can also give you related terms to look for. The indexing EPUB3 standard is now completed and waiting for IDPF board approval.

Children's books
Animation, videos, moving images and 3D – makes the children ebook similar to a computer game. The animals in the farm can move and pronounce a voice by a click, music in the background accompanies the story and the reading becomes more excited and funnier.

Digital content: Internet or EPUB3?

There are people who will claim that with today's advanced web technologies there is no need for EPUB3. However, although the Internet is cheap and easy to use it still has some drawbacks:
 -For many people try to access the same content at the same time (a classroom of students for example) the bandwidth may not be enough, a thing which can cause slow rendering and responses.
 - There are places where Internet connection is not available or expensive (e.g classes in remote places).
An EPUB file is suitable for off-line reading. There is no need for Internet connection in order to read the digital content. Some publishers have published an application for each digital book. The drawbacks of this method are that an application can only be used in one specific operating system and also each eBook must be installed separately into the tablet so there is no option to have a library of eBooks in the tablet. According to Ori Idan, Helicon Books CEO, :”EPUB3 readers will become as ubiquitous as Internet browsers today, so that each operating system has few browser types and the user can choose whatever browser he/she likes”.

 Digital books in education: USA case 

The September 2012 report from the State Educational Technology Director Association (STEDA) describes the transition to digital books with continuous difficulties . One of the problems is that each reader has its own format. Amazon's Kindle for example does not support EPUB. (1) So, the education system or students will have to use EPUB readers in order to read the content.
Furthermore, although EPUB3 readers support the current standard of EPUB2 eBooks (fiction eBooks), the new standard just started accelerates and there are only few readers in the market, so most devices don't support yet this standard. Despite the challenges the education system had to confront with eBooks, some schools in USA have successfully implemented digital textbooks. For example, Arizona Vail School District launched “beyond textbooks” which features a repository of digital content created and shared by participating teachers. The Beyond Textbooks approach has helped boost student math and reading achievements. Such initiatives are spreading across the states. (2)

Creating EPUB3 digital books- more involved 

Creating an EPUB3 eBook is a bigger challenge than EPUB2. It is not possible just take a PDF and transfer it to EPUB3. There is a special need to deal each part of the book differently. Each feature need specific directions in order to act the way you wish.People who wish to add videos will need video editing, so when coming publish an EPUB3 eBook- people should be aware to the fact that it's not just conversion, but there's a need of directions and patient. In Helicon Books we believe that there will be automatic systems in the near future for EPUB3 eBooks, that will be able to handle videos and interactive features.
 Innovative technology in digital books is advancing very fast in today's world. As Doris from Authorlink said “ Historically, publishers haven’t moved very fast. Speed and the willingness to embrace new ways is a requirement for publishers in today’s world. Publishers must learn to be flexible and must seek out a few experts who have deep vertical knowledge. Often, it takes a team effort with many disciplines coming together to produce a good product.”(3). New technologies take textbooks to the next stage of its evolution. EPUB3 textbooks does not compete with the Internet but rather complement it and enable an off-line reading and learning.

Helicon Books is a project management and consulting firm leading innovative technologies in the digital books industry.

 1. "Schools confront digital textbook challenges" , eSchool News, March 2013. p-43-47.
2. "Schools confront digital textbook challenges"  eSchool News, March 2013. p-43-47.
3. "Are eBook Apps, HTML5 or EPUB3 the future of digital publishing",

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