Is the future HTML5?

A few weeks ago I was asked to be on the panel of a Publishing Expo 2012 event. The topic?  “Apps versus  ePub versus  HTML5”.  An odd choice of words, not least because HTML5 is used in both Apps and ePub 3. So why ‘versus’ ?

But what the choice of words, as well as conversations with publishing clients and with the audience at the event itself (held last week at Earl’s Court) – did show me was that many people lack a basic understanding of what HTML5 is and what it means for the future of book publishing. So I thought I’d write a few words, for this blog on HTML5 and ePub3. In the next blog I’ll look at HTML5 and Apps.

First, HTML5 itself. HTML is a computer language for the World Wide Web for structuring and presenting content. HTML5 is the fifth version of this language and it is being built, right now, to support the latest media technologies. Many features of HTML5 respond to the need to be able to run on the low-powered devices (e.g., smartphones and tablets) that have emerged over the past couple of years (it has been forecast that sales of HTML5-compatible phones will top 1 billion in 2013). The new features also respond to the need to handle video, audio and graphical content without having to resort to plug-ins and APIs and without having to worry about file size. With HTML5, feature-rich eBooks that currently take up, say, 500 MB could be significantly reduced.

HTML5 is the base language for ePub3, the much anticipated latest version of ePub. That is, ePub3 is written in HTML5. Because this is a Web language, this opens up the possibility that ePub3 files could be viewed and downloaded from the Web. Add this huge leap in accessibility to the many other new features of ePub3 (e.g., multi-column format, wrap-around text, better font support, interactivity, media overlays, reader data analysis) and we have a product that will look much more familiar to publishers and will go a long way towards making them feel more comfortable – and hence more innovative - with eBook publishing.

But as publishers prepare for HMTL5, there are a host of things they need to think about if they are to keep ahead of the game and to become innovators. They will need, for example, to come up with new ways of:

    * thinking about content (with readers increasingly expecting feature-rich books)

    * using reader data (exploiting ePub3’s ability to embed software in eBooks to provide these data)

    * interacting with readers

    * organising workflows

And they will have to rethink the skillset that will be needed by publishing houses (in-house and externally) if they are to successfully exploit the new world of HTML5. Of course, all this technology enhancement will be of little use if the manufacturers of eReaders don’t keep up to date.

If HTML5 and tablets are the future – and it does look that way – then book publishing is a very exciting place to be. 

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