egomanSigil and Screwdrivers: What Makes an Ebook Development Tool?, Keith Snyder’s piece in Digital Book World, asks a valid question for the moment. But here’s a better one for the long term.

When will we get the WordPress of e-book creation software? It’ll be something free or low-cost that experts can adapt. And yet novices can almost immediately use it toward at least halfway decent-looking results.

Yes, there are all kinds of tools, ranging from free ones to Adobe’s pricey InDesign 1.0. But so often there is some kind of catch, which genuine compliance with good e-book standards could help mitigate.

In a guest post for the Book Designer, for example, David Kudler complains about ePub-exporting tools: “First of all, none of the files created by these apps will display quite the way that you expect them to in various ereaders, especially if you’ve got an ebook that’s got any complicated formatting such as drop-caps, tables, inset images, fancy typography, etc. The apps will try to reproduce on the screen what you were trying to create for the printed page, but often the style rules that the apps try to create make an incredible mess in one or more ereader. Everything may display as plain text on a Nook, while small images may fill the page on an old Kindle, while no images display at all on the Kindle app on your computer.”

As I see it, the reason we don’t have a WordPress of e-publishing software isn’t technical. It’s human—the stubborn refusal of individual companies, especially retailers and e-reader makers, to comply fullywith e-book standards.

Perhaps this is dreaming, given the composition of the membership of the International Digital Publishing Forum, but IDPF or a similar group should rank vendors’ by compliance and widely publicize the results in plain English.

Of course, proprietary DRM makes e-book standards less of an issue than they should be, given that DRM gums up the works anyway, but I’ll at least keep broaching these issues. I don’t think financial obstacles are the only barriers. Corporations, just like their individual executives, have egos and want things done their way.

If the industry won’t get its at together, then maybe it’s time for government agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology to get to work—and then for other parts of the government to insist on meaningful standards compliance.

Pushing for more repressive copyright legislation, both the Obama administration and certain Republicans have talked of the rights of creators. Well, what about creators’ rights in a different context—the technology tax, as I call it: the tolls that publishers and writers must pay the tech side to deal with the clashing e-book standards of so many companies? Hello, Authors Guild? Here’s one for you.

I know. Defenders of the status quo would talk about the need for the feds not to interfere with technological progress. Yes—let’s allow for progress. But let the evolution be a lot less chaotic than it’s been so far. Then maybe we can get the WordPress of e-book software or, ideally, a bunch of apps. And if existing ones can be less of a hassle, then so much the better.

(Creative Commons-licensed image, by Aungkarns.)


  1. Thanks for the super-useful link, Noah. It’s not quite what I have in mind, especially something with simple grades like A, B or C, but this a start. People can also drop by, search by vendor name and see the dismal results for ePub 3 (though some may be out of date):

    The site offers the folllowing:

    View the EPUB 3 Support Grid (all results)
    Compare support of specific EPUB 3 features
    Test a Device, App, or Reading System
    Instructions for Accessibility Evaluation of Reading Systems


  2. Absolutely pressbooks is a great thing for basic books, especially if Press Books can design templates good for the major ebook platforms.

    But standards and support is quickly changing. Just looking at how graphics requirements has changed so much over the last few years makes it hard to have a standard tool. Apple has their own free tool, and I guess that’s something, though only if you forget about other platforms.

    By the way, although is a good reference, it’s hard to stay up to date and support data doesn’t necessarily take into account device quirkiness. Also, I have noticed that a lot of the closed platforms for education and the professional world seem to have the highest degree of epub3 support — which is not exactly helpful for authors.

  3. I have developed with WordPress a prototype that downloads on the fly offline html5 versions of a web page AND also sophisticated multi-chapter and section documents.
    Everything is packed into one file – text, media, CSS, Javascript, SVG, MathML, fonts.
    The proof of concept is her and now and not in the future as described in various IDPF/W3C documents about epub-web.

  4. Nick,

    Nice article — I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot, and you echoed a lot of my thoughts.

    In fact, you quoted one of them! The bit you credited to the wonderful Joel Friendlander above was actually from a guest post of mine on his blog. Though I am always happy to credit Joel for just about anything. 😉

    I played around with the new version of iBooks Author over the weekend to see if it would be a (Mac-only) WordPress for Ebooks. Nice, but not yet. The ePub files it produces are beautiful, but cludgy — there are a bunch of extra XML files in there. And of course a lot of the sexier stuff (widgets and multimedia) won’t make it onto Amazon, B&N, etc. Not sure about Kobo — I haven’t tried.

    In response that article a bunch of folks recommended Jutoh, which I’d tried in beta and had been underwhelmed by. I guess I could look at it again. But unless it can import as well as export ePub, I’m not sure why I’d bother.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail