publishing, which was reflected in the functionality of former versions of ePub.
following chapter, the connection between ePub and trade reading will be described in detail.
The next device under examination, which supports reflowable (i.e. a type of a digital
format that can adjust its presentation to a particular output device) and fixed-layout formats, is
the dedicated e-reader. Again, any research conducted into dedicated e-readers will be device-
dependent as there can be differences in the implementation of certain functions on devices or
in the formats supported.
Schomisch et al
tested three dedicated e-readers and one tablet
for their suitability to academic use by examining basic functionalities, which support active
examination of the text while reading. Although their findings cannot be considered final due to
the small sample scale and scope of the tested devices, the conclusions are telling. Most of the
group does not use e-books for intensive reading but instead prints out the most important
parts from them. In addition, the functionalities and usability of the tested e-readers proved to
be neither sufficient nor suitable for scholarly work. The same study on the dedicated e-readers
showed that they cannot really compete with all-purpose devices such as PCs, tablets or
notebooks. A different study, conducted in 2010 by M. Aaltonen
et al, showed that most of
the respondents would use e-readers for reading a novel (reading for leisure) and consider them
unsuitable for academic papers with complicated layout, with laptops being still preferred due
to their better functionality. Another study conducted by the digital education team at Barnes &
Noble on finding an optimal digital study device showed that the best device at the moment is
the laptop, which can be used for heavy studying and content parsing, with tablets being used
‘as an on-the-go solution for reading and annotation’.
Due to their bigger screens, tablets can offer a more comfortable reading experience for
the user than smaller devices. In addition, their annotation capacities are clearly superior. For
18 B. Kasdorf, ‘EPub 3 (Not Your Father’s ePub): Opening Pandora’s Box in the World of E-books’, Information
Standards Quarterly, Vol. 23(2) (2011), p. 7.
19 S. Schomisch et al, ‘Are E-readers Suitable Tools for Scholarly Work? Results from a User Test’, Online Information
Review, Vol. 37(3) (2013), p. 395.
20 Ibid., pp. 391-392.
Aaltonen et al, ‘Usability and Compatibility of E-book Readers in an Academic Environment: A Collaborative
Study’, IFLA Journal, Vol. 37(1) (2011), pp. 16-27.
D. McCarthy, ‘Mobile Perspectives on E-books. E-Reading: The Transition in Higher Education’, EDUCAUSE
Review, March/April 2011, p. 22.
instance, there are special applications for PDF e-books (such as GoodReader, iAnnotate) which
enable users to highlight in different colours, inserting blank pages in PDF files for making notes
on them, and so on. Although a detailed discussion of their user-friendliness is beyond the
scope of the study, it is obvious that they can offer more extended opportunities for scholarly
work than dedicated e-readers or small-screen devices. To summarize, at the moment devices
with bigger screens and greater functionality (such as laptops and tablets) seem to be more
acceptable in the academic environment.
Which e-book format is dominant?
In order to become ‘e’, paper books have to be converted into a suitable e-format. A range of
formats and standards is available: from open and free to proprietary. It is not so easy to say
which are the most widespread formats for e-books. Some consider ePub the most common
format for electronic books,
and quite often these claims have no argumentation behind
them. In this regard, given the absence of comprehensive and reliable statistics on format
coverage, an interesting attempt was made by D. Johnson to use Google to check the presence
of formats on the web in a very simple but effective way, by conducting searches for file types.
Although there are some limitations to this approach (the exclusion of HTML and HTM files,
which represent the vast majority of files on the Internet; changes in search algorithms, etc.),
the results are worth mentioning here (Fig. 2
). The most striking feature is the absolute
dominance of PDF files and the absence of ePub until 2014, when this format registered only 1.4
per cent of all file types.
23 P.K. Ryan, Careers in Electronic Publishing, (Rosen Classroom, 2014), p. 59.
The figure is taken from:
D. Johnson, ‘The 8 most Popular Document Formats on the Web’, February 17, 2014,
n.pag. <http://duff-johnson.com/2014/02/17/the-8-most-popular-document-formats-on-the-web/> (Accessed 15
25 D. Johnson, ‘The 8 most Popular Document Formats on the Web’, February 17, 2014, n.pag. <http://duff-
johnson.com/2014/02/17/the-8-most-popular-document-formats-on-the-web/> (Accessed 15 June 2014).
Figure 2. Percentage of electronic formats on the Internet (April 2011 - February 2014)
The results of Johnson’s study are more intriguing if they are compared to the results of
survey reports on digital book publishing conducted by the Association of American University
Presses since 2009. The table (Table 1) below should be treated with care because the number
of participants and the types of presses in the survey differed each year, thus it cannot be
considered as absolute and comprehensive and not all the formats in the survey are presented
here; some formats have since come and others have since gone. Moreover, although presses
can produce e-books in different formats, no record is made of the percentage of e-book
production covered by a single format, meaning that even if less than one per cent of books
published by a particular press is made in ePub, this percentage will be counted. However, some
trends can be seen: firstly, PDF is still the most widely used format; secondly, if PDF is not the
only format offered by publishers, they are still not eager to take many risks (surprisingly, ePub3
has not made any great progress since 2013, although it was launched in 2011 – only three new
publishers decided to use it in 2014).
Table 1. # and % of presses which make content available in different formats, 2009-2014
* XML (other than ePub)
In this regard, the statement that ePub and PDF ‘are rapidly becoming the main ones
that academic publishers use’
seems inaccurate because, based on my observation and the
information presented above, I would claim that ePub has been adopted mainly in trade
publishing, while ‘serious’ academic publishing tends to choose PDF in line with the preferences
of academic libraries. All in all, it looks like it is too early to claim that ePub is one of the most
common formats for academic e-books, although PDF certainly is. For instance, Cambridge
University Press offers its books only in PDF for institutional access,
although it does not rule
out that its third-party distributors will offer e-books in other formats.
26 Digital Book Publishing Strategies in the AAUP Community: Winter 2009-2010, p. 3.
27 Digital Book Publishing Strategies in the AAUP Community: Spring 2011, p. 4.
28 Digital Book Publishing Strategies in the AAUP Community: Spring 2012, p. 6.
29 Digital Book Publishing Strategies in the AAUP Community: Spring 2013, p. 6.
30 Digital Book Publishing Strategies in the AAUP Community: Spring 2014, p. 6.
31 L. Bennett, E-book Strategies: The Essential ALPSP Guide on How to Develop Your E-book Offer, (ALPSP, 2011), p.
32 FAQ: About Cambridge Books Online, n.pag. <http://ebooks.cambridge.org/faq.jsf?pageTitle=FAQ> (Accessed 29
Figure 3. E-book formats created
In addition, some data concerning e-book formats (Fig. 3
) has emerged from a
comprehensive survey of academic book publishers’ policies and practices conducted by the
ALPSP in 2009. The extent to which the results of this report are still plausible and relevant in
the present situation of a rapidly changing digital world is difficult to say, but at least they do
give an overview of the recent past and be used as a reference point. Moreover, they do not
contradict the above-mentioned surveys.
EPub: a choice between a reflowable and fixed-layout format
The choice of a format is determined by different factors (target readership and possible use of
a product, devices or platforms through which it should be delivered [distribution channels],
possibilities of a publisher to produce a particular format); however, it also depends on the
content type it should deliver. Thus, it may be assumed that most trade fiction books are text-
oriented but lack a sophisticated page layout, images or passages in different languages and
complicated tables and formulas. Where this is the case, the preferred format for such books
33 J. Cox et al, Scholarly Book Publishing Practice: An ALPSP Survey of Academic Book Publishers’ Policies and
Practices, First Survey, (ALPSP, 2009), p. 40.
may be ePub. EPub
unlike print books or PDF files, is designed to change’
meaning that it
allows content to become reflowable and malleable: any text will be adjusted for a particular
display or a given reader’s needs; the size of the display is not a factor. Thus, the format
specification makes reading possible on even small devices (as mobile phones or smartphones)
with tiny screens. In its turn, mobile reading has an advantage which may also be considered a
disadvantage from a different perspective: it usually implies reading on the way (while
commuting or waiting for someone). This type of reading can be characterised as discontinuous,
extensive, lacking depth, and often accompanied by scanning or skimming over the reading
material. To familiarise oneself with something while in transit or to use a small-screen mobile
device for a quick reference or refreshing some facts, mobile reading (in case if this information
is easily discoverable) is an ideal invention at the moment. In this regard, quite telling are the
results of a study on e-book usage conducted by B.L. Folb et al: most users reported using an e-
book for reference purposes regardless of whether this e-book was published as a textbook,
reference source or any other type.
When a sophisticated page layout is involved – with images, tables and formulas – ePub
is available to the publisher in its ‘fixed’ variant (Kindle, Apple and Sony formats have a similar
). In this case, every page is treated as a separate unit and text is reflowable
within page boundaries. This hinders visualisation of the content and can hamper reading. Its
limitations are that it may not be optimized for all e-readers and then it works in a way similar
to PDF files where you can zoom in to or out of a page. On the other hand, Bedford e-Book to
Go offers PDF-based e-books with an extended compatibility with Apple mobile and Android
(beyond that of Bedford’s usual e-books). Fixed ePub is a part of the ePub2 standard
which, at present, is not supported by all e-readers (the current revision of the ePub standard is
ePub3). It is particularly interesting to point out the practice that, not a reader, but ‘De Gruyter
34 EPUB 3 Fixed-Layout Documents: Purpose and Scope <http://www.idpf.org/epub/fxl/> (Accessed 15 June 2014).
35 B.L. Folb et al, ‘Clinical and Academic Use of Electronic and Print Books: The Health Sciences Library System E-
book Study at the University of Pittsburgh’, Journal of the Medical Library Association, Vol. 99(3) (July 2011), p. 220.
36 EPUB 3 Fixed-Layout Documents: Appendix B. Mapping Tables <http://www.idpf.org/epub/fxl/> (Accessed 15
37 Compare E-books, n.pag.
12741> (Accessed 29 July 2014).
decides what ePUB format is most suitable for each digital publication’
(between fixed and
The idea behind ePub3 is in diametric opposition to the PDF format – ‘content
presentation should adapt to the user rather than the user having to adapt to a particular
representation of content.’
The developers of ePub are aware that this cannot work for all
types of content;
however, a fixed layout was not officially supported in the original EPUB3
specification and only in March 2012 was a new specification for e-books with a fixed layout
That is why ‘when fixed-layout content is necessary, the author's choice of
mechanism will depend on many factors including desired degree of precision, file size,
Thus, ePub3 offers a choice between a reflowable or pre-paginated (= fixed
layout) document and then allows its structure to be defined by adding to it a landscape,
portrait or auto (= no constraints) value or, in lay terms, spine orientation. After ‘spread
property’ has been defined, page orientation can be applied locally to any part of the document
when needed. By defining the page’s dimensions in fixed pixel measurements for XHTML, SVG
(Scalable Vector Graphics) and bitmap images, it is even possible to achieve right-to-left page
progression direction for a document (usually used for Japanese manga). However, few people
know that ePub 2.0.1 offers right-to-left reading because software reading systems have not
supported this ability.
EPub3 is a new step towards making the ePub format suitable for academic publishing.
Academic books may contain passages in different scripts (like those for Arabic or Asian
languages) which are read from right to left or from top to bottom, as well as a sophisticated
with images, tables and formulas. To
reflow ‘simple text’ trade book in ePub is fairly
38 FAQ ePUB: Can I Choose the Specific EPub Format? <http://www.degruyter.com/page/902#Format Wahl>
(Accessed 15 June 2014)
39 EPUB 3 Fixed-Layout Documents: Purpose and Scope, n.pag. <http://www.idpf.org/epub/fxl/> (Accessed 15 June
40 Ibid., n.pag.
41 Field Guide to Fixed Layout for E-books, Version 1.1., ed. Cramer D., (Book Industry Study Group, September
2013), p. 12.
42 EPUB 3 Fixed-Layout Documents: Purpose and Scope, n.pag. <http://www.idpf.org/epub/fxl/> (Accessed 15 June
43 B. Kasdorf, ‘EPub 3 (Not Your Father’s ePub): Opening Pandora’s Box in the World of E-books’, Information
Standards Quarterly, Vol. 23(2), 2011, p. 10.
easy, but turning an academic book into ePub may demand additional proofreading and
checking of the above mentioned aspects
Initially, it was a problem of the format itself to
display them in an appropriate way, and it remains to some extent. Then it became a problem
of software reading systems which cannot support all the functionality.
The year 2014 looks like
it is marking a very important milestone in the development and wider use of ePub in academic
publishing because this year several academic publishers have announced their adoption of
ePub. Among them is Elsevier which ‘will move its new e-books to EPUB3, becoming the first
major STM publisher to commit to the latest, most advanced e-book format available’;
problem of compatibility of the formats will be solved as EPUB2 devices ‘will "see" Elsevier's
EPUB3 e-books as EPUB2 files.’
One month later (in May 2014), two more academic publishers
made known their decision to use ePub: Wiley (ePub3) as its new standard for e-books in
reflowable format (as of February 1, 2014),
and De Gruyter (ePub2) as a format in addition to
its PDF e-books
(as of May 2014). It is worth noting that that none of these publishers has
abandoned the production of e-books in PDF.
HTML and academic publishing
HTML, a mark-up language for creating web pages, is a format widely used in e-journals and to
present news or short texts and articles online, especially for archiving and institutional access
(for instance, The Chronicle of Higher Education offers some of its articles in full-text HTML:
however, they are printable and can be listened to). In this case, it may have fairly simple or
even unpretentious layout: without images, almost with no text formatting (some coloured
Elsevier Embraces EPUB3 Format, Ensuring More Enriched and Interactive E-book Experience for Readers,
PRNewswire, April 22, 2014, n.pag. <http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/elsevier-embraces-epub3-
format-ensuring-more-enriched-and-interactive-ebook -experience-for-readers-256164711.html> (Accessed 15
46 K. Sugeno, ‘Improving the Reader Experience with EPUB 3’, Exchanges, May 16, 2014, n.pag.
<http://exchanges.wiley.com/blog/2014/05/16/improving-the-reader-experience-with-epub-3/> (Accessed 15 June
47 ePub, n.pag. <http://www.degruyter.com/page/853> (Accessed 15 June 2014)
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