EPUB Resources and Guides

By Keith Fahlgren
March 2, 2009 | Comments: 20
Update [August 2010]: The EPUB world has changed a lot in the last 16 months, so many of the links below are out of date. There's even a book now--Liz Castro's EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating ebooks for the Apple iPad and other ereaders--so check that if you're getting started with EPUB today.

Update: Added some links from the comments (thanks) and switched to "EPUB", per IDPF.

We've been trying to help promote the EPUB standard by publicly lobbying for support from Amazon, hosting Bookworm, supporting the IDPF, presenting about the standard and readers that support it at conferences, and writing open source software to generate it.

That said, I don't think I've done enough to help people get started. Here's a recent question from a DocBook users' mailing list:

Can anyone recommend any resources, articles, etc., that they have found useful in working with EPUB?

In order to help folks just coming to EPUB and wanting to learn more, I've assembled a categorized set of links mostly from my head and browser history. There's lots of good resources I've missed, so please note them in the comments and I'll update the post.

EPUB, the format

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) developed the EPUB specification. The EPUB format is made up of three separate specifications, which are fairly reasonable (as specs go):

  • OPF: how to name and list the files
  • OCF: how to package the files as one ZIP
  • OPS: how to markup the content in the files

Ebook formats, generally

A higher-level overview of the EPUB and other formats is Liza Daly's Ebook Format Primer.

Example EPUB

If you're looking for some example EPUBs to explore, grab the free Best of TOC Ebook from O'Reilly or head to epubBooks.

Creating EPUBs

Bob DuCharme wrote a nice overview of creating EPUB from scratch. He points to two other resources: .epub eBooks Tutorial and EPUB Format Construction Guide.

The most comprehensive EPUB construction guide guide is Liza's Build a digital book with EPUB tutorial on IBM Developerworks. Adobe has written a guide to making EPUBs that work well in Digital Editions (in EPUB) and a few tips on creating EPUBs using InDesign.

The Atlantis Word Processor can save documents as EPUB. You can read about one person's experience evaluating the field and being satisfied with Atlantis.

You can also learn more about EPUB creation by reviewing the slides from BookNet Canada's EPUB Book Camp, a small, intensive conference introducing EPUB to publishers.

EPUB readers

O'Reilly just announced its support and hosting of the superb, open source Bookworm EPUB reader (Liza's work), but we're biased. Its code is available under a BSD license.

Adobe Digital Editions is a free (beer), closed-source EPUB Reader used by under the hood by the Sony Reader & many consumers.

Lexcycle's Stanza iPhone App is by far the most ubiquitous EPUB reader (with more than a million downloads), but the Sony Reader also supports EPUB as well the upcoming Plastic Logic reader (2010).

Bookglutton is another online reader that supports EPUB. Unlike Bookworm, Bookglutton focuses a great deal on the social aspects of reading.

AZARDI is an in-progress EPUB reader trying to be reference-quality. Its code is available under the GPL.

It seems like plans for new EPUB-supporting readers are announced everyday--watch the list of EPUB readers at epubBooks and Teleread.

EPUB news

The MobileRead Forums are where a lot of folks interested in electronic books hang out (I don't).

TeleRead and the TOC Blog are the place to watch for news (less technical).

Liza's blog's EPUB category has quite a bit of meaty stuff to chew on in the archives.

Mailing lists

Mailing lists include the ePub-Community and the brand-new ePub-interop for reader implementers. If you're having trouble converting a file to EPUB or getting it to look the way you want, join the ePub-Community list.

EPUB editing

While unzipping an EPUB and editing the contained files is fairly straightforward for a programmer, the cross-platform PDFXML Inspector, from Adobe's Mars project, is a much easier way to edit existing EPUB files in place. Paul Norton first suggested this clever use of the tool on the Digital Editions blog.

EPUB tools

eCub is a cross-platform GUI tool for creating EPUBs from text or XHTML.

Calibre offers multi-input and -output conversions between all sorts of electronic formats.

If you have DocBook content, you can use the open source DocBook-XSL project's packages to generate EPUB files using a provided Ruby script. Liza has written tools for using the same stylesheets in (cleaner) Python and also converting TEI into EPUB.

Bookglutton provides a simple API for converting HTML to EPUB.

Liza (spotting a theme?) just released an alpha of a pure-JavaScript EPUB reader.

Publishing eBooks with AsciiDoc walks you through the conversion of two Project Gutenberg plain text books (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Brothers Karamazov) to EPUB.

EPUB validation

Use epubcheck to validate your EPUB documents or use a web interface.

EPUB aesthetics

ePub Zen Garden (from Liza) applies the lessons from CSS Zen Garden to try to "dispel the myth that digital books can't also be crafted works of visual design."

20 Comments

Thank you, Keith, this is an excellent resource!
I'll spread the word.

There's not much that can be added right now; except perhaps these:

Epub Readers on the Epub Blog:
http://www.epubbooks.com/blog/epub-software-readers/

How to Read Epub Ebooks (on my site)
http://epublishersweekly.wordpress.com/ebooks/%E2%99%A6%E2%99%A6-d-read/how-to-read-epub/

Epub Splitter Tool
http://epubsplit.appspot.com/

Epub Boot Camp slideshows
http://www.booknetcanada.ca/mambo/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=428&Itemid=292

And I might add that Stanza epub reading software is also available for desktop computers.

Michael Pastore
50 Benefits of Ebooks

One thing about epub as a preferred ebook format that I'm not clear about. The impression I've been getting (and I admittedly have not researched this that heavily) is that graphics and images are still a problem. Since I'm a graphic novelist, this is obviously a major issue. While I love the idea of epub, it seems to be extremely limited to straight text (the strengths from that point of view are obvious); images, graphics and other picture-heavy texts would seem to be "orphaned" under the epub format.

Am I incorrect about this? If not, are solutions forthcoming? And if not, then it would appear (at least to me!) that epub would not to be the universal ebook format that proponents are advocating. Especially as we steam forward towards full-colour ebook devices.

to Von Allan:

I'm just exploring this very question. For now, if you take this question over to the ePub community (see the link in Keith's article, above) I am sure that one of the epub experts there will be able to provide some useful information.

I love good graphic novels, and I hope that the solution is coming soon!

Michael Pastore
50 Benefits of Ebooks

@Von Allan: ePub, the format, certainly does have the ability to express image-heavy content. At this time, however, we haven't seen a whole lot of development in ePub rendering systems' display of image-heavy content, in part because of the difficulty of rendering a fixed-size image nicely across a range of screen sizes from iPhone to 30" monitor.

There are ePub versions of comics & manga that have simply been captured as a series of page-sized images.

The fundamental tension here is that ePub is all about "reflow" & graphic novels, for example, are all about strictly preserving the layout of everything.

One more thing to keep in mind, which I haven't seen discussed very much, is the aspect ratio of the images.

If an image is too wide compared to the height, then it won't show up on some reading systems.

Of course, what everyone wants is to develop both the epub standards, and the reading systems, so that you can make one epub that can be read everywhere. And not the nightmare of needing one epub optimized for Adobe Digital Editions, another slightly different epub for reading on Stanza, and so on.


Here's a very simple ePub comic book, to show what I was referring to above.

You might wish to add Atlantis Word Processor to your "Creating ePubs" or "ePub tools" sections. Atlantis Word Processor (http://www.atlantiswordprocessor.com) can
convert any existing document (TXT, RTF, DOC, DOCX, etc) to ePub in a few mouse clicks.

How to merge an epub file with an epub reader like stanza and create
an autorun iphone app?

Colin Hazlehurst has collected a series of posts exploring the internals of ePub here: http://netkingcol.blogspot.com/

Another way to create ePubs is http://www.epubconverter.org . An online converter for docx or pdf files. It is using the lrf-epub-tools behind the scene.

With the introduction of the iPad, it seems like there might be demand for a book about creating e-books with EPUB. Any chance O'Reilly is planning such a book?

There's a comic book ePUB template here.

If anyone is interested in reading comics on their ebook reader, I wrote a program to automatically convert CBR and CBZ files in to EPUB.

It's a bit more sophisticated than a straight conversion as it will automatically clean up the images so that they look better on an eBook reader.

The whole thing is open source and free.

http://comictoepub.sourceforge.net/

I used atlantis wordpress also for EPub and it worked well

There are good tutorials for mobi and epub on:
www.katiebooks.ca

Shows how to hand-build ebooks from scratch.

Now and then I'll stumble across a post like this and I'll recall that there really are still interesting pages on the web. ^_^. Thanks.

I think this may be useful:
http://www.epubmaker.net/
A specially designed EPUB creation software for iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch users.

I have been using the Epub creation software for i-phone.
Its a little clunky but does the job although in a limited capacity. I want to make a fitness e-comic. Any ideas?

Thanks for the template to Marc.

Cheers

Thanks for the template to Marc.

Everyone should read about Marc Hansen's travails with epub for comics (use Google by searching for site:ralphsnart.blogspot.com epub) They mirror my own frustrations for children's picture books. Right now, I can't create a dual page spread because all readers impose a gutter. I can't have my text separate from the image because of formatting issues. But text as an image looks and reads terribly. Can you imagine The Polar Express in epub format? I can't.

I've tried to track the epub3 changes, but I don't see solutions to my or Marc's concerns. Besides, IDPF has so much on their plate that I am not hopeful. Right now, ebooks are a mess: we have epubs for text; PDF for cases where formatting matters; comic book archive format (admittedly user-driven, not publisher-driven); DocBook and Publisher for technical books; and apps for children's books. Yuchh!

It's clear that the Web formats will win, but HTML5 isn't there yet, and ebooks are not on WHATWG or W3C's agenda. Major publishers are too afraid of piracy and disintermediation to invest heavily in ebooks, but only they can really underwrite the work needed to create a single standard.

I despair!

Projects

Bookworm

The free platform for reading EPUB books online from any device.

Integrated with O'Reilly Labs 02/09/09.

First translations added 03/11/09.

Feedbooks integration & one-click addition added 07/29/09.

Beta Projects

Open Feedback Publishing System (OFPS)

Participate in collaborative community feedback to help refine in-progress, open manuscripts like Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript or the published Programming Scala.

Released 05/20/09.

O'Reilly Product Metadata Interface (OPMI)

Want to know all we know about an  O'Reilly book? Give us an ISBN and we'll let you in on our (RDF) secrets!

Released 02/09/09.

Open Source

DocBook-XSL 1.74.3 with Improved ePub Output

Keith Fahlgren (O'Reilly Media) helped release the stable 1.74.3 release of the open source DocBook-XSL project and improved the EPUB generation stylesheets. Paul Norton (Adobe) and Liza Daly (Threepress) provided very helpful patches.

Released 02/17/09.

DocBook-XSL 1.74.0 EPUB Output

Paul Norton (Adobe) and Keith Fahlgren (O'Reilly Media) have contributed code to the 1.74.0 release of the open source DocBook-XSL project that generates EPUB documents from DocBook. An alpha-quality reference implementation in Ruby was also been provided.

EPUB is an open standard of  the The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) and something O'Reilly is trying  to help gain wider adoption.

Released 06/02/08.