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eBook formats galore

Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
What is wrong with using simple, standardized HTML for eBooks instead of all the other formats (epub, kindle, etc). Then no reader is required: a simple browser will do. I understand one reason for formats being that Amazon, Apple, et al, want to "control" the book and have you buy their reader, but my question is simply this: is there some security or sharing reasons not to use HTML?
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 18829
    
  40

A big reason is that books are copyrighted information -- and you want it stored in a format that is not easy to steal.

Henry


Books: Java Threads, 3rd Edition, Jini in a Nutshell, and Java Gems (contributor)
Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
I understand that the Kindle format is simple, mid-1990ish, stripped-down HTML. Also, this very web site (also HTML) is copyrighted. What do you think of that then Henry? I'm still thinking "control" is the real word, the real reason for differing formats.
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 18829
    
  40

Dave Anderson wrote:I understand that the Kindle format is simple, mid-1990ish, stripped-down HTML. Also, this very web site (also HTML) is copyrighted. What do you think of that then Henry?



I don't see how those two points says that preventing the book from being stolen is not a primary concern.

Henry
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

For the record, Apple uses the standardized EPUB format for its iBooks iPad application. Yes, it's DRM-d, but as an author who loses revenue due to piracy, I have absolutely no issue with that.


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Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
Bear,

Would you put your work out for sale if it were displayed in HTML? If you would not, is Henry's concern that it would be stolen your main concern?

David
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

To be honest I think the internal format is completely irrelevant and should be whatever makes the functionality of the reader possible. Raw HTML* would be a spectacularly poor choice in my opinion.
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 18829
    
  40

Dave Anderson wrote:
Would you put your work out for sale if it were displayed in HTML? If you would not, is Henry's concern that it would be stolen your main concern?


I don't think HTML is the issue. I think, HTML, the way it is with browsers, is the issue. If someone can figure out how to do DRM with it, then I wouldn't have an issue with it.

Henry
Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
If the essence of a "book" is being re-defined from one of simple words on a page to one of interactive capability, then what better format than HTML?
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

EPUB uses XHTML and CSS internally, augmented with other XML constructs that help calculate reflowable layouts.
fred rosenberger
lowercase baba
Bartender

Joined: Oct 02, 2003
Posts: 11311
    
  16

one advantage of PDFs is you can lock it down. You can set it so that once it is generated, it can't be changed. We use this in my work for medical records. An application generates a record of what happened. ten years from now, if a lawyer subpoenas it, everyone can be sure it wasn't changed.

If my book was in raw HTML, what's to keep someone from editing it, changing my statement of "I am not a murderer" to "I am a murderer", and re-distributing it? How would anyone prove what was real and what was not?


There are only two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors
Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
Fred: that makes sense (i.e., being able to lock PDF files down). Don't PDFs fail, however, with respect to interactive capability?
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

I think PDFs and eBooks for readers (a la Kindle, Nook and iPad) are very different beasts. PDF is not a reflowable format.
Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
That brings this full circle: I am questioning the need for the "reader".
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

PDF is a fixed format. Each page is what it is. eBook readers will reflow the content based upon user preferences.

As someone with 53-year-old eyes, I appreciate the ability to pump up the font to obscene sizes, and set the font to sans serif.
Mark Spritzler
ranger
Sheriff

Joined: Feb 05, 2001
Posts: 17250
    
    6

Personally, I hate HTML, always have always will. It is a shame because if I did like it, I would have been extremely rich since I started trying it in 1994.

Anyway, a book doesn't need all those tags, and I would find it extremely difficult to write a book in html. Whereas epub is much simpler and completely geared towards writing books.

Also, I hate reading in a browser, scrolling down etc, always gives me a headache. But an eReader reads like a book, looks more like a book, and feels like a book. So if it looks, reads, and feels like a book, it must be a book. (Duck Typing). Whereas Html and browsers never ever feel, look or read like a book to me.

Obviously, my opinions, and they are not worth that much anyway. ;)

Mark


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Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

Mark has hit on a lot of important points. Are you arguing that we don't need book readers because we have browsers? if so, I'll vehemently agree with Mark -- the last thing I want to do is to read a book as a long page in landscape mode in a browser.

Or are you just focusing on the internal format of ebooks?
marc weber
Sheriff

Joined: Aug 31, 2004
Posts: 11343

Bear Bibeault wrote:Mark has hit on a lot of important points. Are you arguing that we don't need book readers because we have browsers? if so, I'll vehemently agree with Mark -- the last thing I want to do is to read a book as a long page in landscape mode in a browser...

I second that. It's the readers that make eBooks viable, in my opinion.

(Meanwhile, I'm comparing reader apps on my iPad: iBooks, Kindle, and the new B&N reader. I love the iBooks app. B&N seems okay. Kindle... Not so much. Unfortunately, iBooks suffers from a shortage of available titles, so B&N is probably going to get my eBook business for now.)


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Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

iBooks is fantastic. I've read through two books using it.

I'm currently reading a Kindle book (Tetraktys) and I find the Kindle reader adequate to the task.

I've downloaded the B&N reader but have yet to give it a try.
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

OK, so I just gave the B&N reader a tryout, and it's going to give iBooks a good run for its money. I especially like how it lets you save font and margin settings as named themes. Very cool, that.

With the three readers on my iPad, I can now pick which source I want to buy any book from based upon availability and price. (And I now read the daily newspaper using PressReader.)

I'm also really grooving on the way that all three will let you download the first chapter or so to see if it grabs you before committing to buying the book. Also très cool!

I'm really liking the way the whole eBook market is shaking out -- it's put a lot of the fun back into reading.
Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
I'm going to stick my neck out on this.

Let me first say, however, that the iPad is so cool, I would tend to go in the direction this discussion has taken if it weren't for this: we are going through a revolution with respect to books via the eBook. But the new eBook publishers want to perpetuate the OLD way of doing business -- that they publish a book, we download it (just like shipping a paper copy), and then we put it on our Reader (the medium, just like a book, even "turns pages") -- which is no revolution, just switching publishing from one corporation to another.

My point here: seems half baked.

Moreover, The Reader -- sexy and cool as it is -- is the very means of perpetuating the status quo (which is great if you are Bill O'Reilly, but not so great if you are Bill Binkowitz; or if you are Amazon, but not if you are Brule). Think of it this way: the personal computer, Java, HTTP, HTML, all unable to be controlled (at least for now). Where would we as programmers be without these standards? Ans: at IBM and on mainframes.

HTML and the browser, it seems to me, are the liberators of the author (i.e., authors of books), not unlike Java and the personal computer are to us.

Ok. Here's more: although I haven't check this out (maybe someone in the discussion has), but HTML and the browser can indeed do pretty much the essential things that the Reader does: change fonts, re-size, remember where we are in the book, be interactive, limit page size, etc. How? Hit a button or image somewhere on the representation of the book and, vollah, an event occurs (which means we can do just about anything we want, given Javascript, cookies, and messaging to Tomcat, amongst a thousand other tricks).

Just playing the devil's advocate here, and thinking outside of the book (I mean box!).

David

Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

Dave Anderson wrote:.. which is no revolution, just switching publishing from one corporation to another.

Perhaps because a revolution is not needed? You haven't done any explaining of what changes you think should be made -- just grousing about the way things are. Or are you just someone else who thinks that everything should be available for free just because "it's the Internet!"? I'm not getting that sense, but I'm also not getting any sense of what exactly your point is.

HTML and the browser, it seems to me, are the liberators of the author (i.e., authors of books)

How so? I'm an author, and a web developer. Yet, I don't see what sort of "liberation" HTML and browsers give to me.

Ok. Here's more: although I haven't check this out (maybe someone in the discussion has), but HTML and the browser can indeed do pretty much the essential things that the Reader does: change fonts, re-size, remember where we are in the book, be interactive, limit page size, etc.

It can approximate some of those, but poorly in my opinion. As a web developer, I know I could code up a web application that approximates the features of a book reader. But why bother? What real advantage would it have for me as a reader to fire up Safari to read Tetraktys over firing up the Kindle application?.

What advantage would it have for me as an author to have someone fire up a browser to read my books, rather than a reader application? I see none. Only disadvantages (e.g. what format? whose web app? how would I get compensated?)

As an author, I'm very interested in where eBooks will go, but I think the revolution will be in interactive content. And I don't see how dedicated readers hurt that direction, and many ways in which they will further it.

Will things ultimately end up using HTML5 (which is much more capable than HTML4)? Perhaps. As pointed out HTML (XHTML) is already used by EPUB internally. Will future browsers replace dedicated readers? Perhaps. But we're a long way from there now.
Just playing the devil's advocate here, and thinking outside of the book (I mean box!).

Well, to be frank, I don't think that you really are. You're not really making any supportable points yet.

I'm not saying you're wrong. But I can't say that you're right when you haven't really made your points.

You say that things need to change. But not why, or to what.
You say that HTML/browser will "liberate" us. But not why we need liberating, or from what.

Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
I did hesitate to use the words "revolution" and "liberate". As a business man and entrepreneur, I am not advocating giving away any intellectual material here (but that word revolution can have a spontaneous reaction to bring that to mind for some I see, which is why I hesitated using it; at the same time, this is a revolution we are going through). I see no problem charging for an hBook (just coined the phrase) anymore than an eBook; one stays on-line, the other you download.

Here is one point I would make: for every published author (paper copy), there are 5,000 wanabees. With eBooks, anyone can be self published with an upload to Amazon, but you get buried; unless you upload and index on Google, then buy Ad Words, or have some other way to self promote your work. So, it seems to me now, after this discussion, perhaps there should be a way to have a "poorman's Amazon", or something along the lines of what a Richard Stallman would think up: you get read as a novelist (technical writers aside perhaps), then make some money, get some recognition, and you get to "the next level".

I think I'll pull my neck back in now.

David
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

So doesn't all that come down to marketing and have nothing at all to do with format, delivery or what app is used to read it?
Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
Well no (well, yes if you see the world only from the box I think we are being put in; which is great if you are a player; or if you have taken the blue pill). I may not have articulated it as a Hemingway would, but by "half baked" I'm suggesting the need for a standard if not for any other reason than we have been here before (remember, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it"). All the formats I mentioned initially in "eBook Formats Galore" give me deja vous: remember all the "graphics software" from the 1990s as just an example. And we have that standard: HTML and the browser.

Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 18829
    
  40


I agree with Bear. I don't see any supportable points. Just lots of analogies, metaphors. and even a few conspiracy theories thrown in.

Henry
Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
Conspiracy now. ??
Andrew Monkhouse
author and jackaroo
Marshal Commander

Joined: Mar 28, 2003
Posts: 11460
    
  94

I disagree - trying to impose a standard would actually box us in. As things stand, there is competition in the marketplace. This hopefully will mean that the best standard will win (although I acknowledge that this is not always the case).


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Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
Andrew, I would not call it "imposing" a standard, but rather "leveraging" a standard. Maybe someone out there will read all this and see an opportunity.
Andrew Monkhouse
author and jackaroo
Marshal Commander

Joined: Mar 28, 2003
Posts: 11460
    
  94

You mean like the iPad leverages the EPUB standard, or the Kindle leverages the MOBI, and PRC standards?
Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
Is that checkmate?
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 18829
    
  40

Dave Anderson wrote:Conspiracy now. ??


The conspiracy part was referring to your very first post -- when you implied that the goal was to control the format, and hence, control the ebook market. Or at least that was how I read it -- please elaborate what you meant if I drew the wrong conclusion.

Henry
Dave Anderson
Greenhorn

Joined: Nov 09, 2009
Posts: 29
I see. I didn't and wouldn't use the word conspiracy; that implies collusion. What is going on between Apple, Amazon, et al is more like a war, a war of the marketplace for sure, but the goal being to dominate, and to dominate is to control. For some people able to promote their self published work, this is not so much an issue; for authors with little means of promotion and marketing, however, this means exchanging the hegemony of the printed book publisher for that of the electronic book publisher. This is my central thought, rambling as it may have been. The eBook I think is looked upon by the unpublished author as "liberation" or freedom, and I think they are finding it otherwise.

So, that got me to talking about HTML which none controls, as opposed to epub etc which requires a reader, and then other things surfaced.

Just asking the questions, which I think is the purpose of the different posting sections, right? And, if nothing else, I did post this under "Meaningless Drivel", which after all I deemed at the time was the right place.

Take care (JavaRanch is awesome, and a great resource!),

David

Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 61201
    
  66

Dave Anderson wrote:I see. I didn't and wouldn't use the word conspiracy; that implies collusion. What is going on between Apple, Amazon, et al is more like a war, a war of the marketplace for sure, but the goal being to dominate

And yet, EPUB is an open format.

And, at least in my neck of the woods, a "war of the marketplace" is called "business".

for authors with little means of promotion and marketing, however, this means exchanging the hegemony of the printed book publisher for that of the electronic book publisher.
They're usually one and the same, but that's besides the point. You still haven't explained how using HTML (which as I've pointed out multiple times, is exactly what EPUB does) aids the hapless authors with promotion and marketing.

Anyone is free to write a book in HTML and publish it to the web. But yeah, they're responsible for their own marketing. I still don't see your point that using pure HTML helps an author in any way shape or form.

The eBook I think is looked upon by the unpublished author as "liberation" or freedom, and I think they are finding it otherwise.
Again, I don't see how. Anyone can self-publish, be it in print, or electronically as EPUB, PDF, HTML, a Word doc, or whatever. The ability already exists. What needs to change?

So, that got me to talking about HTML which none controls, as opposed to epub etc which requires a reader, and then other things surfaced.

HTML is an open standard. So is EPUB. What's the difference? Again, what exactly is your point?

Just asking the questions, which I think is the purpose of the different posting sections, right?

Don't take disagreement with your stance (of which I'm still unsure of) as any kind of indication of whether you should be posting or not. Of course you can post anything you want (within the guidelines, of course). Or were you just looking for blanket agreement?

(JavaRanch is awesome, and a great resource!),

That, I can agree with!
Pat Farrell
Rancher

Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4655
    
    5

fred rosenberger wrote:one advantage of PDFs is you can lock it down. You can set it so that once it is generated, it can't be changed.

No, you really can't. To do that, you have to generate and keep a SHA of the file. Once upon a time, Adobe claimed that PDF files were immutable, but its not technically true. More importantly, it is not hard to find expert witnesses who will tell the judge that they are not immutable.

Back on topic, nearly all of the formats are special to enforce DRM. The music folks have already learned that DRM is a loser, no matter how hard they wish it was true.

For books, I believe that the look is important, at least it is to a lot of editors and publishers. This means being able to specify the font, margins, gutters, leading, kerning, etc. This is non-trivial in a portable way. Then you have to deal with images, charts, photos, etc.
Andrew Monkhouse
author and jackaroo
Marshal Commander

Joined: Mar 28, 2003
Posts: 11460
    
  94

Bear Bibeault wrote:
Dave Anderson wrote:So, that got me to talking about HTML which none controls, as opposed to epub etc which requires a reader, and then other things surfaced.

HTML is an open standard. So is EPUB. What's the difference? Again, what exactly is your point?

I think the Mobi format is a semi-open format. Amazon also provide free of charge an HTML -> AZW format converter application that produces very good documents. I can run it on my Mac anytime I want to. Not to mention the service that Amazon provides where I send a document to an email address and it gets converted for me and sent to my Kindle (or my email if I prefer)

So if I, as an author, choose to create content that is designed to work well on an eBook reader, I can do so, without being charged for it. Seems to me that I am not being boxed in by the eBook manufacturers at all.
 
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subject: eBook formats galore