E-Book Web Standards: Still Caught in Print?

Joe Clark, writer for A List Apart, has written an article on E-Book publishing, its standards and its future. In it, he argues that the future of E-Books lies in the future of HTML. HTML is about displaying words, he argues, and is a standard ready to be used.

It cannot always work and may never be advanced enough for certain print endeavors like movie scripts.

E-Book formatting is incredibly important for accessibility: bad formatting, no accessibility.

The article is long and complex. You should read it. Clark skips over a few key issues:

  • Accessibility is in a seemingly constant fight with owners of copyrights.
  • E-Books are not the only long-form of writing around: Magazine articles routinely clock in at ¼ the length of a “book” and are structured in most the same ways as most “books.”
  • Structure, Structure, Structure: Clark mentions how HTML cannot handle footnotes, turning them all into endnotes (a nightmare for any Terry Pratchett reader) yet does not dive into structural ways of getting around the problem: breaking text up into chunks, possibly into pages.
  • Even more structure: Even short forms of journalism, which are the siblings of books, contain all sorts of structure: sections, sub-sections, sub-sub sections, which can be extrapolated, along with magazines, into a new structure for e-books.

And, finally, Clark writes an entire section about how holdovers from the printed age can be ported to the web through the use of CSS. He lays out what can and can’t be done in CSS and how to convert print conventions into web when. Clark appears to miss the fact that these are style issues, not content or structural ones.

By: Wheeler Cowperthwaite