Early Hints Suggest that AAP’s Epub3 Project Won’t Have Much Affect on Epub3 Adoption

aap-final-lg-epub-color-web-smaller[1]The AAP held the final workshop for their Epub3 Implementation Project earlier this month and (if my source is correct) not a whole lot was accomplished.

My source told me that the outcome of this project will include a whitepaper which will be widely ignored as well as a list of features which nearly matches the Epub3 spec, only with some of the less needed and more difficult to implement features listed as being the most important.

Epub3 adoption has largely ground to a start (pun intended) since the ebook format was finalized 2 years ago. Aside from a handful of closed gardens, no reading platform has adopted more than a smidgen of Epub3’s many features.

I had been hoping ever since the implementation project was announced in July that the publishers would get together and come up a limted subset of the Epub3 spec (I called it the Epub3Lite format), but that doesn’t appear to have happened. Instead the list of features that publishers want most include such gems as MathML.

MathML (Mathematical Markup Language) is a way to write out equations. It’s mostly only used by a niche textbook and technical publishers, and it was added to the Epub3 spec at their request. Unfortunately, it is not easy to implement (not the way that the Epub3 spec requires), which is part of the reason few apps which support Epub3 also support MathML.

MathML was at the top of my list of components to subtract from Epub3Lite format; I wanted to make it optional and thus reduce the workload of all the developers who weren’t going to implement it anyway. The fact that it is still included is a sign that Epub3 came out of the AAP project in almost the same form as it went in.

And that means, folks, that Epub3 is still as stalled today as it was in July. A couple dozen reading apps support a smidgen of Epub3 features, but only a handful offer anywhere even close to support for the full Epub3 spec.

Even Sony only has limited support for Epub3; they only went as far as audio, video, and some interactivity. And while there are many Android reading apps which mention Epub3 support, many don’t promise support for anything more than audio and video (Moon+ Reader, for example).

At this point it seems that widespread adoption of Epub3 is still waiting on the Readium project. This project is going to produce an SDK which app developers will be able to use to build Epub3 reading apps (I hope).

The resulting apps won’t be available for 6 months or more, though it is possible that Bluefire will get their Epub3 app out the door sooner. They’re one of the lead developers on the Readium project.

P.S. If you have a moment, please direct your attention to the logo in the upper right corner. If you are restraining your juvenile giggles at the thought of the AAP’s EPUBE project, you’re not alone.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. fjtorres1 October, 2013

    Facepalm time, huh?
    Lots of sound movement and in the end…nothing changes?
    They did the drill because they needed (and still need) a common definition to start selling rich content ebooks before Apple and Amazon’s headstart renders epub3 an afterthought.
    And after the drill, the standard is still held hostage by the all-or-nothing kitchen sink crowd.
    At this point KFX and iBook 5 will both get out first. In early 2015.

  2. Ann1 October, 2013

    Your source was not accurate. The major focus was accessibility; the priority items were focused on epub3 features that permit disabled users to use the same ebooks as other readers, as well as consistent support of standard HTML5 tags–ones that are supported differently on different platforms–so that the publisher can provide a reliable, consistent customer experience. While MathML (your example) was on the list, it wasn’t at the top.

    Note too that many of the major device and app makers were present and part of the conversation.

    Also, as an aside, textbooks are not a niche. While the trade market growth is leveling off, growth in adoption of digital textbooks is still quite great. Also, MathML isn’t exclusive to STEM content. I am looking at a single shelf of recent trade titles, and I see three from the past six months that would benefit from MathML in their digital editions. (You may be operating under the illusion than only math and science people use math. Ask any editor who’s been tasked with figuring out the projected EBITDA of a proposed title if that’s the case.) MathML also falls under the accessibility area: if equations are rendered as images, screen readers cannot parse the equation for the visually impaired reader. Moreover, if MathML isn’t valuable, why does Apple support it?

    Rather than writing up the opinion of one perhaps disgruntled source, you might want to make the effort to talk to multiple attendees for a more accurate perspective.

    1. Nate Hoffelder1 October, 2013

      Accessibility was the other half of the workshop, and it doesn’t sound like that contributed much either:

      Also, so long as Epub3 adoption is stalled it doesn’t really matter how accessible it is. The state of the market won’t be changing any.

      “While the trade market growth is leveling off, growth in adoption of digital textbooks is still quite great.”

      I’ve been hearing similar claims since 2009 and so far it has turned out to by simply hype. While digital now accounts for around 35% to 50% of fiction, it is still only a tiny percentage of textbook sales. And that is after 4 years of “This is the year of the digital textbook” hype.

      And as for MathML being important, why is everyone stuck with supporting a feature that 95% of the current market doesn’t need? Apple supports it because they want to do textbooks, which is not a sign that it is important to the rest of us.

    2. Jack Lennon2 October, 2013

      I consider myself a huge EPUB 3 promoter as this is also my job but please take into account that disgruntled people are now the norm in this industry… That is why I’m seeing nothing wrong in this article.

      To me — and to other people I’ve talked with — this AAP stuff is just another useless non-event in the industry. Does it help EPUB 3? NOT AT ALL, it’s just another discussion happening between people considering themselves as people who are counting. This just leads to an EPUB 3 black hole where nothing happens.

      And now you get people who wish EPUB 3 never existed, developers telling it is so insanely complex that it will take a decade to support it fully, others claiming the IDPF is doing crap, etc.

      Let’s take EPUB 2: it is not fully supported… Years from his creation.

      Truth is you are doing more harm than good with your worthless works. In fact, you are making the job of thousands a pain in the neck. For the good of EPUB, you should as a matter of fact be excluded from anything EPUB 3. That is a hard truth you should hear before it’s too late.

      Thank you for taking into account you are a parasite.

  3. Ben1 October, 2013

    Until ereaders fully supports epub2 features and specs…I don’t care if these same people keeps crying epub 3 is coming and is going to own everything…just stop it!

    The future of epub 3 lies in actual implements and support in devices now! We don’t need more specs and whitepaper bs about what it can or can’t do or should do or will do…everyone is just waiting for someone else to do something…to lead…and yet these same people keeps crying about Amazon dominating ebooks!

  4. Paul Topping5 October, 2013

    People that are not themselves involved in a field where mathematics is required often dismiss it as something only a small percentage of people need. They need to reflect on a few facts. Mathematics is an essential part of every child’s grade school education. While we can dismiss this as only textbooks, the need to handle math extends to virtually all elearning, assessment (testing), lesson plans, workbooks, etc. If one imagines that these things are never going to be delivered as ebooks, I would ask “Why not?” An ebook is a handy way to deliver packaged electronic content of all kinds.

    At least half of the departments of a typical college or university must use mathematics in their content. It is not just the Math Dept. but all sciences, all engineering departments, economics, business, sociology, medicine, education (teaching teachers), and so on.

    Many academic journals must handle mathematics in their content. Many of these are currently delivered electronically using PDF. It is expected they will move to ebooks when the technology matures.

    All of the technology we use today (cell phones, computers, cars, planes, trains, machine tools, medical instruments, military equipment, etc.) require mathematics to develop and document. What do you think goes on in those big aerospace and technology companies? Should they not be able to create technical manuals in ebook form?

    MathML is already well entrenched in the publishing and education industries, as well as indispensable for making mathematics accessible. It is also part of HTML5, though admittedly not yet supported by most web browsers. The Readium project has already implemented MathML support using the open source MathJax software. Other ebook readers have also adopted this solution. Although it has taken a while, MathML is a success and an integral part of the STEM world.

    1. Nate Hoffelder5 October, 2013

      I don’t think anyone said that Math was not important; the debate here is over the importance of the notation implementation.

      I do not see why mainstream reading platform should be required to support a feature not needed by 99% of the market. And that is why I would like it to be optional.

      1. Mers21 October, 2013

        Because at some point, even in novels, there will be Math. Besides, making MathML optional will only be an excuse for ereader developers not to implement it. Optional could cause a developer to become lazy.

        1. Nate Hoffelder22 October, 2013

          They’re not implementing MathML now, so I don’t see how making it optional will change anything.

          1. Mers22 October, 2013

            Well, try creating an EPUB with MathML sometimes. You’ll realize it’s a good thing.


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