Thoughts on Books in Browsers V (pt 2)

More Poetic Musings on #BiB14

(continued from earlier post)

Here are my notes on the talks, more for my own future reference than for anything else. The two talks I’ll summarize today, unlike most others, are not available on YouTube. To skip straight to my interpretations, go to TL;DR .

Dave Cramer of Hachette and the CSS Working Group: “Books and the New CSS”

(read an abstract of his talk)

I’d be remiss not to mention the hero’s work showcased by Dave Cramer at #BiB14, even though his talk isn’t available on-line. I could hardly do better than Iris Amelia’s sketches of the event, anyhow:

Dave, a member of the CSS Working Group, gave attendees a showcase of things that are (or will be) possible when CSS support expands to more screens, platforms, and devices. As others have done, he used a public-domain work to keep the focus on the formatting. Check this out:

slide from Dave Cramer's presentation, showing two columns of text in a browser

Dave Cramer has some nice CSS pagination.

If memory serves, Dave made this pagination, complete with running recto/verso headers, using just HTML/CSS. He’s displaying it in a Web browser, true to the Books in Browsers theme of the conference.

How about reflowing text around objects while maintaining pagination and headers?

slide from Dave Cramer's presentation, showing text reflow around illustrations in a browser

Everything gets better with whales.

Implicit in Dave’s presentation and slides was a full-throated defense of the page as an organizing concept, even for reflowable text.

Two quotes stood out, for different reasons:

“I’m the only thing that stands between you and lunch.” It had little to do with Books in Browsers, but Dave’s opening statement was a nice touch of humility and humor. It also communicated clearly his alignment with the very streamlined format of the Books in Browsers talks: Stay focused, say a lot, get off stage on time.

“Art forms advance not by forgetting the past, but by reimagining and building on it.” Even at a conference about digitizing books, attendees will encounter moments where they feel discomfort about rapid change. It was nice to have a reminder that the new need not replace the old. That is, after all, a central issue I face when I think about how ancient poems and modern E-readers can coexist.

Ivan Herman of W3C and Markus Gylling of IDPF, “Bridging the Web and Digital Publishing”

(read an abstract of their talk)

As with Dave Cramer’s talk, the video for Ivan and Markus is not online. Also as with Dave Cramer’s talk, many of the salient points survive gloriously in caricature:

The main takeaway for me was that content should be easily repurposable. EPUB should change to Web page, Web page should change to EPUB, all with a minimum of fuss for the reader. (As a reader, I completely agree. As a publisher, I have qualms.) Ivan pointed out that “Some browsers have an archiving ability, but this ability is not interoperable.” Apple’s Safari browser can save whole Web pages via its “Reader” function, which is far more elegant than the gremlin-prone “Save Page As…” menu command of other browsers. However, those pages are not (easily) accessible to other browsers or to E-readers. Markus Gylling’s quote that stayed with me was “Books need a higher quality of typesetting than average Web pages.” And with E-books, at least, the reality is completely opposite of the need: Web pages rendered in desktop browsers offer typographic controls far beyond the current state of the EPUB art. (PDF files are even better, of course, but those are available on nearly all browsers and E-readers.)

These two talks in light of my thematic questions.

1. How are people formatting E-books these days?

Adventurously, yet with enough of a standards-based approach that this stuff might actually hold up over time. Note that both of these talks came from people who are actively defining standards as part of W3C/ IDPF. Later on in the conference, Hugh McGuire of Pressbooks rightly praised the “fuzzy margins” of small developers for their role in bringing innovation to E-books. The trick, as with most technological progress, is to sail between the Scylla of standardized complacency and the Charybdis of fragmented chaos.

At least we know we can flow around any whales we encounter.

2. Do the formatting requirements of publishers and platforms affect the way writers write?

These talks focused a lot more on design than on writing. It’s worth mentioning that Dave also works for Hachette, a publisher in the most traditional sense of the word, but I’m not sure I found much on this question in these two talks.

3. Does innovation matter when Amazon controls 70% of the E-book market?

That thought dominated my read on these talks. All the CSS3 and EPUB3 standards in the world won’t matter anytime soon if we’re waiting on KF8 to adopt them. I raised this issue the next day during the question and answer session of another pair of talks.

If you attended the conference, how did your perspective color these talks?

Thanks to Peter Brantley for making this conference possible and to Publishing Perspectives for recording and posting the conference videos.

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