In 2012, e-book sales overtook the sales of print books for the first time ever, marking the tipping point in a paradigm shift that has been a long time coming in the publishing industry. With the rising popularity of e-books comes the need for an industry standard format for publishing accessibility, which EPUB 3, created by the International Digital Publishing Forum, hopes to establish. In March of 2013, the International Publishers Association announced their endorsement of EPUB 3 for accessible publishing, stating that they “strongly urge all publishing industry stakeholders to adopt EPUB 3,” so that the industry “can achieve an interoperable and fully accessible global standard for e-books and other digital publications.”
That all sounds great of course, but what does this mean for for the publishing industry as a whole? For one, EPUB 3 was designed to address criticisms of previous EPUB editions, which were said to be unfit for the publication of specialty texts like comic books, lacking in annotation abilities, possess substandard language support, unable to support rich media and interactivity, deficient in navigation support, and not up to necessary accessibility standards. A long list, yes, but EPUB 3 has widely addressed those issues, as evidenced by the endorsements the format has received from major global publishing bodies. If the publishing industry was going to shift ever further into the e-book realm and away from traditional print media, all types of texts would have to be supported by an industry standard format, and experts believe that EPUB 3 accomplishes that goal.
By establishing an industry standard for accessible publishing, opportunities to create e-book content are available to those who may previously have lacked the capability to do so. For example, in the past different types of e-readers worked on different formats, making it difficult for smaller publishers, especially, to create far-reaching content. Instead of creating one e-book that was accessible to all readers, a small publisher would have to focus on one format or another, thereby missing the opportunity for their text to reach a maximum number of readers. Beyond that, for self-publishers or indie authors, the task of creating and formatting a written text into e-book format may have been too daunting a task to take on, especially given the time it takes to write a text in addition to the time it takes to format it for e-book publication.
Accessible publishing is a hot-button issue in the publishing industry today because it has an effect on everyone from readers to writers to the publishers themselves. As EPUB 3 is adapted by more and more e-reader companies – Apple’s iBooks application is among the list of players who are using or plan to use the EPUB 3 format – the publishing of texts in e-book format will be open to more people than ever. For readers, EPUB 3 promises an improved reading experience, with features like pop-up footnotes, in-text navigation, improved interactivity, enhanced images,media overlays and text to speech in e-books. For writers, the adaptation of an industry standard for e-book formatting means an easier time getting your work published over many mediums, and the chance to reach a maximum number of readers. Overall, if EPUB 3 is widely adapted as planned, although this might take more time than envisaged, and delivers on the enhanced functionality it promises, the publishing industry could be entering a more inclusive, accessible era of e-books.
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