Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ePub from InDesign, could it be more intuitive?

On September 4th Waterstones in the UK will be stocking the Sony Reader. That includes Exeter, where I live. Often this blog is about distant places such as Ghent where the PDF standards come from. It will be interesting for me that local can connect with significant technology such as consumer electronics to display ePub.

I have booked some time on Sept 4th at Life Bytes, an internet resource opposite the Odeon on Sidwell Street. Advertised as "late afternoon", by which time there should be something working over the cable. The Kindle is not available in the UK anyway and there is no date as far as I know. So it still makes some sense to download files to a desktop and then cable to a device.

LifeBytes has a copy of the current InDesign and I have tried out the option to create ePUB. There is a file but no formatting. I might as well be working with Notepad, which by the way I often do. The menus are not that easy to follow. XHTML is shown under multimedia or something like that ( I am writing this at home so memory is not exact). So perhaps this idea of losing all formatting would make sense if you wanted to work in Dreamweaver. All I want to do is show a text with some formatting on a Sony Reader.

So it is good to have found a blog entry about Digital Editions even though I cannot follow all of it. The good news is that the formatting was intended to disappear so the explanation is not that I made some simple error in trying to use InDesign.

Text styling: only Character Styles, Paragraph Styles, and Object Styles are exported to ePub. All freehand styling is discarded. This means that if you want a single word or phrase in bold type, you need to create a character style (i.e. bold_text), and apply this character style to all of the text that you need to be bold. If you then decided that you want some of those words bold and italic, then you must create a second style to apply to those select words to be turned bold and italic.

Layout could be just a bit more complicated

Layout: when threading together text fields, they will always be exported in the correct order. However, they will also always be in one flow. All of the layout editing that you have done to place the text boxes with respect to each other or the page is discarded. You will have to style the layout of the ePub manually, after export.

But is still possible if you look inside the zip file

After exporting the eBook to ePub format, you can manually edit its content and styling. This is easy to do, because ePub format is really a zip file. To edit these components, follow these steps:

1. Using a zip compression/decompression tool, extract the contents of the ePub archive to a known location.
2. Apply the required edits to the individual components
3. Re-archive all of the components. The order of the files in the archive matters. In order to comply to the ePub specification, add the mimetype file first, and make sure that it is not compressed. Next, add the META-INF and the OEBPS directories to an archive.
4. Make sure that the extension of the archive file is .epub, not .zip.

Note that the XHTML files, chapter list (OPF file) and the CSS stylesheet can be found in OEBPS directory.

Fortunately the Sony Reader also supports Adobe Digital Editions(ADE) and PDF. What seems to happen is that a PDF file is seamlessly converted into Flash Paper as it used to be known. There is still no news on a MARS plugin for Acrobat 9 (expected July or early August according to the MARS blog.)So there appears to be no urgency in a more XML friendly version of PDF. If it is possible to move from PDF to Flash, could it be easier to create ePUB from text or word processing?

I have had a quick browse of open source approaches. More on this in a later post. Possible workflow- import open doc to Scribus, click the "save as ePUB" button.

Clearly life is more complicated than that, but I hope to have more clues by Sept 4th.


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