The “print vs. e-book” debate seems to have settled on something like a draw. In 2020, ebooks only made up about 18% of total book sales, suggesting that, as the traditionalists have argued, print is here to stay. But e-books also saw the highest year-over-year sales increases that year, with digital publishers selling 5.2 million more e-books in April of 2020 compared to April of 2019.

And yes, the pandemic probably had something to do with it. “The pandemic made the digital format more desirable, as it’s a germ-free experience and e-books can be acquired instantly at home,” Kristen McLean of consumer analysis group NPD Books told Publishing Perspectives in 2021.

As these figures illustrate, e-books don’t have to dominate traditional publishing to grow in popularity—and with the rising popularity of e-books comes the need for an industry standard file format for publishing accessibility. A file format called EPUB 3 fills this need (see sidebar below for an introduction to the EPUB file format).

In fact, as far back as 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.”

What is EPUB, and how does EPUB 3 fit into the picture?

Put simply, EPUB is the standard file format for digital publishing, and EPUB 3 is the latest edition of this format. By incorporating HTML5 and other online coding, EPUB 3 allows the creation of texts that are more interactive and feature-rich than ever before.

The EPUB standards (including EPUB 3) were first developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), a standards organization for the digital publishing industry. In 2017, however, IDPF merged with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international standards body for the internet.

Today, EPUB specifications are managed by the W3C EPUB Working Group, with recommendations and research from the W3C’s Publishing Community and Publishing Business Groups.

That all sounds great of course, but what does this mean 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, limited in available languages, unable to support rich media and interactivity, deficient in navigation support, and not up to necessary accessibility standards—most notably, the W3C’s own Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

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 continues to shift further into the e-book realm and away from traditional print media, all types of texts must be supported by an industry standard format. Experts believe that EPUB 3 accomplishes that goal.

But EPUB 3 is far from the only e-book file format in use today. Why is it the one with endorsements from publishing trade groups?

Advantages of EPUB 3 Compared to Alternative E-Book Formats

The greatest advantage EPUB has over competing file formats is that it’s an open standard.

It’s not proprietary, like Amazon’s AZW format or Adobe’s PDF, so it can be used more broadly. The EPUB standard was developed from the start to be universal—a true industry standard—so every e-reader could be an EPUB 3 reader if manufacturers join the movement.

By establishing this 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, when different e-readers work on different formats, it’s difficult for smaller publishers 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. Broadening availability is part of the EPUB mission.

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.

At the same time, EPUB 3 promises a terrific reading experience. It offers features like pop-up footnotes, in-text navigation, improved interactivity, enhanced images, media overlays, and text to speech (TTS) in e-books.

If all that’s not enough to recommend EPUB 3, the file format also offers a compelling range of additional benefits that explain why it’s the go-to specification for the global digital publishing industry.

Looking for a more natural text-to-speech experience for your digital publishing projects? Contact ReadSpeaker to discuss dynamic, real-time TTS solutions that are platform-agnostic and support all modern web browsers.

EPUB 3: 5 Features and Benefits

When e-readers hit the market, the process of shopping for and consuming texts changed forever, but even that seismic shift is in the relative rear-view mirror. Now you don’t even need a dedicated e-reader to shop for and read texts. It can be done with your smartphone, t, mp3 player, laptop, or just about any other device with an internet connection.

Of course, creating richly interactive texts that translate seamlessly across those many devices does present some challenges in its own right. That’s where EPUB 3 enters the picture. This universal file format comes with some valuable nuts-and-bolts improvements for digital publishing:

  1. Standardized Formatting. A well-designed e-text is only valuable if that design functions the same across every modern reading device, and EPUB 3 delivers in this area with the latest in formatting updates and standardization.
  2. Global Language Support. In addition, EPUB 3 is global-language friendly, with support for right-to-left reading, vertical writing, and enhanced annotation. With e-texts reaching far beyond any geographical restrictions, improved language support is a must-have. The ability to format texts for a global audience is great, but reaching all readers requires more than just the right formatting. Readers simply expect more out of their texts than before, and it is in this area that EPUB 3 truly shines.
  3. Accessibility Features. People with learning disabilities, visual impairments, second-language or literacy challenges, and other reading-related issues benefit from several enhancements brought to the open standard EPUB 3 format. EPUB 3 enables accessibility features such as better semantics, pronunciation hints, media overlays, and improved text-to-speech playback.
  4. Text-to-Speech Compatibility. One of the most promising aspects of EPUB 3 is its compatibility with text-to-speech technology. ReadSpeaker TTS solutions support a wide variety of input formats, including EPUB, HTML, XML, PDF, and more, in over 50 languages—and ReadSpeaker embedded SDKs allow manufacturers to add TTS functionality directly to e-readers and other devices, even during offline use.
  5. Interactivity and Multimedia Capabilities. Online reading has changed expectations for readers, who now expect more from texts than just words on a page. This means supporting media overlays which allow easy integration of supporting audio and video information, and turning texts into an interactive experience for readers. Beyond the accessibility benefits, this offers readers a rich experience that can compete with the many other media options vying for the readers’ attention.

The promise of EPUB 3 specifically—and digital publishing in general—is the opportunity to reach more people. This is true whether you are trying to bring your content to readers with accessibility challenges, or you are trying to stand out from the pack to attract busy readers. Interactive, accessible texts open doors for more readers, at home, in classrooms, and beyond—and text to speech opens those doors even wider.

To learn more about TTS solutions for the digital publishing industry, contact ReadSpeaker today.