Why I’m Finally Excited About EPUB

Fixed Layout EPUB is now a viable alternative to DPS SE apps.

Fixed Layout EPUB is now a viable alternative to DPS SE apps.

EPUB has been around as an official standard for years, but it’s not a format I ever got overly excited about. While I readily admit to being a geek, cracking open EPUBs to edit what is arguably some of the worst HTML and CSS I’ve ever seen wasn’t something I really wanted to spend my time doing. Add to the fact that just as EPUB was gaining steam, DPS came along in 2010 and my focus moved in that direction. I really haven’t looked back…until now.

When Adobe launched InDesign CC2014 they added fixed layout EPUB as one of the formats it was capable of exporting to. It was a nice start but it was a very static format and wasn’t really capable of much in the way of interactivity especially when compared to DPS. Fast forward a few months to the release of InDesign CC2014.1 (hey, I didn’t come up with this naming convention) and I think FXL EPUB is finally ready for prime time. The support of interactive features like MSOs, buttons, web content, and animations (something DPS still can’t do) while  maintaining the layout makes it a viable choice for publishing rich, interactive content.

The support of interactive features like MSOs, buttons, web content, and animations (something DPS still can’t do) while  maintaining the layout makes it a viable choice for publishing rich, interactive content.

Should you choose FXL over DPS Single Edition?

I don’t think I have to tell you that I’m a fan of DPS and think that Single Edition apps are a terrific way to distribute your content, but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect choice for every occasion. Here for your perusal are some reasons you might consider FXL EPUB over DPS SE.

  • You don’t need an Apple Developer account—In addition to not having to pay that $99/year you’ll be spared from going through the convoluted process of creating certificates for an app.
  • You won’t have to build and submit an app—Even if you survive the certificate creation, there’s still a matter of building the app. While Adobe has done an admirable job of creating the DPS App Builder, it’s not as straightforward a process as it could be. And then there’s the submission process which requires entering a multitude of information in the iTunes Connect portal and Apple’s Application Loader.
  • Avoid rejection—There have been many times that DPS SE apps have been rejected by Apple for being too book-like with the suggestion that they’d be better positioned in the iBooks Store. You might just as well avoid the headaches and go straight there. You’ll need to register with Apple to do so. If you want to learn more, Apple has an FAQ about the process.
  • You don’t need a Mac—Believe it or not, there are a lot of Windows users out there. I know because I’m one of them. I’ve got a MacBook Air mostly because I need one…not because I want one.
  • Beyond iPad—While the FXL experience on iBooks on the iPad is excellent, you’re not limited to that device. In fact, any device, including desktop and laptop computers, with a compatible reader will allow the viewing of FXL EPUBs.
  • You want to use native animations—For the longest time, the InDesign animation panel sat there mockingly; just daring me to use it. Of course it was, and still is worthless for DPS. Almost every animation feature including timing is supported in FXL EPUB.

EDIT (because I can’t believe I forgot to include it):

  • Searchable text—Yup, you can search an EPUB, something that just can’t be done in DPS.

What’s not supported?

The only major DPS feature that is not supported directly in InDesign for FXL EPUB is scrollable content. I haven’t really taken much of a deep dive into it but I suspect there may be an HTML workaround but it’s going to be just that, a workaround, at least for now. Based on what the InDesign team has done in such a short period of time, I’m hoping they come up with a way to add a way to do this directly in InDesign. Other features unsupported are pan and zoom and panoramas, but I can certainly live without them.

There’s also a very limited number of compatible eReaders but since iBooks is one of them (and from what I’ve seen in limited testing, the best of them), you’re already reaching the same audience as DPS SE. Other compatible readers are Readium, Kobo, Google Play Books and Adobe Digital Edition 4.0 (though it seems to work better on Mac than Windows). Like DPS SE apps, however, I strongly encourage you to test your EPUB on multiple platforms to be sure things are functioning properly. Kobo, for instance has some known issues with text crowding in some EPUBs; something they’re aware of and working on.

Want to learn a bit more? Check out this document written by Adobe’s James Lockman.

So, what do you think? Is this something you’re interested in?

64 Comments

  1. I agree with what you wrote Bob. I think ePub from InDesign has taken a huge leap forward (with the latest update at least). I kinda have a think for DPS Image Sequences so I’m a bit bummed there’s no alternative for that at this stage. I really hope we’re still at the start of a fixed layout ePub evolution.

  2. Thanks Bart!

    As I said in the post, the big miss for me is lack of scrolling content. But even that’s not a deal breaker. Unless you’re manually swiping through an image sequence, animations can take their place. But if you want to swipe, I can’t think of a really easy way to replace that. An Edge Animate file perhaps?

  3. I totally stopped working on ePub back in 2010, when DPS was in pre-release. Thought ePub would be obsolete format in 2-3 years. Glad I was so wrong, and happy to read the progress made by InDesign team. Kudos to you Bob for the analysis, and the InDesign product development team for all the hard work…

    The big question is, does it support nested overlays yet, and how much of manual tweaking is there on the ePub file?

  4. I’ve used InDesign for years, but I don’t sell myself as a print pro. My focus is as a digital media marketer and custom web designer. While laying out an InDesign booklet recently, I discovered EPUB Fixed Layout on Lynda.com. WHOA! Now this is right down my alley. I’m so pumped up on the exciting pieces to design using this digital document, I can’t sleep. I’ve broken through a few struggles with Object States and now I’m ready to shoot for the stars with FXL!

  5. Ok, let’s talk.

    1. Interactivity gets you excited. Great but please consider that there is a huge amount of people who hate it because designers are going crazy. That is something which is now well known in the magazine app industry, the interactive experiments having disgusted them from such publications.

    Interestingly, only designers are ignoring that, often on purpose, because they don’t want to admit that they are doing bad design. It is time to wake up guys, publishers are already betting on different horses and DPS certainly isn’t involved in this race.

    2. Scrollable content: looks like your work gets crippled by software-enclosure. That takes a couple of CSS lines and that is certainly not a HTML workaround as the web has been doing that for more than a decade, some publishers won’t even consider you a professional/publishing-literate if you don’t know how to do that–you can fear for your job, really.

    Which leads me to

    3. The more you will commit to a piece of software, the sooner you’ll be left on the side of the road by the industry. If you don’t make an effort to make things by yourself, you are doomed. Period. You can call me a fool if you want, that won’t explain how and why more and more publishers or companies are currently creating tools so that they don’t rely on people in the middle. Once again, it is all about ignoring what happens in the real world–the fact that Penguin Random House is betting on the web with Pelican should be a warning: you don’t manage web technologies? Well, bye bye, this is mandatory.

  6. Hi Bob! Nice blog! 😉

    @ Johnlepic: About your comment [“Scrollable content: looks like your work gets crippled by software-enclosure. That takes a couple of CSS lines” …], can you provide us these CSS lines? Thanks in advance, I’m very interested… and probably other!

  7. Bob, you’re 100% right !
    This development will at least complement or maybe eventually replace Adobe DPS and Folios.
    DPS will remain a large publisher’s preferred platform, because of its features beyond the mere production of a file. But ePub 3.0 FXL will cater for the rest of us, in much easier, quicker, and cheaper ways. A chat with Adobe InDesign’s Chris Kitchener totally convinced me: let’s get this show on the road !

    Over 25 years ago, when I was demonstrating a funny little new computer (a Mac) with a revolutionary piece of software (PageMaker), an old sales guy from a typesetting corporation stood next to me, shaking his head, with a troubled face, saying: “This isn’t going to work, it’s flawed, it’s useless and pointless”. In hindsight, we know that this stuff was going to shake up the whole graphic design trade…

    For a couple of years I uttered the same complaints about InDesign’s first attempts at ePub 3.0 FXL: “This isn’t going to work, it’s flawed, it’s useless and pointless”, and I was right, then. But after many disappointments and downright failures, InDesign surprised the world with their CC 2014 October release, and I suddenly realized: I’m like that old guy now, not seeing and believing this new potential under my very eyes.

    Okay, Adobe’s recent take on ePub 3.0 FXL might not be perfect yet, and some stuff still doesn’t work, but hey – it’s a start ! Back in 1986, PageMaker offered a restricted number of shades of grey and line widths, and to make a text column wider you had to manually reflow it between altered column guides. Color ? No way ! Besides that, the first PostScript printers started out with just 13 fonts, and it was quite a technical fuss to install and use any extra typefaces. But we loved it 🙂

    Anchors aweigh, full speed towards glass !
    Let’s conquer the long-tail of designers and users,
    who ask for interactive publications on their screens.

  8. Great Article Bob. I am photographer trying to create some interesting digital content for my clients, to offer something more than what every other photographers is doing. I started looking into DPS but that seems like an expensive and time consuming preposition for the kind of content I intend to create and share. Your insights on Fixed Layout EPUB is very helpful . Hopefully Adobe would add Scrollable content and other missing interactivity to FXL EPUB soon.

  9. I don’t really have the same excitement about FXL ePub. I can totally follow the concept if it’s about an open format that is readable on a whole bunch of different devices and software.

    However, the whole fixed thing is something that I’m not excited about at all. Given the current diversity in the device / screen sizes / aspect ratio’s that such a publication should support, a fixed layout is working completely against that idea. Add on top of that that not every ePub reader will render the document they way you want it to render it, and you will have a though time ahead.

    Websites have abandoned the idea of fixed layouts for a long time already, because in the long run, it actually requires more work than investing the time in making something responsive. That being said, I’m afraid InDesign is going to be the wrong tool in the future unless Adobe starts thinking about adding support for responsive design. That’s going to be a major overhaul of how InDesign works and how we look at digital design, but it’s something I don’t think we can avoid.

    Also, as it currently stands, FXL ePub is just a cheap alternative to single issue apps imho. If you start looking at multi-issue apps (which actually avoid the building of apps and rejection to a certain extend), there are a whole bunch of other items that come into the picture (in-app purchases, subscriptions, entitlements, …) which you will not have with ePub.

    I would have preferred that Adobe invested time and effort in making the new tools they have (I’m thinking about Edge Animate and Muse to start with) more powerful so that they can actually be used to created responsive publications. Since these tools can output HTML5, you can do a whole more with that compared to ePub.

    • Hi Pieter, you’re right about ePub FXL being a cheap alternative to a DPS/Folio SE. It’s indeed set for a certain screen size and not very flexible (yet), it even requires certain hardware and software (not just any ePub reader), and InDesign is still a print media tool with some interactive stuff slapped onto it. And there are even more disadvantages, like not having a matrix of articles but just a linear set of ‘screens’, and the (current) lack of some very popular interactions and media like scrollable frames.

      However, the ePub FXL caters for everyone looking for a way to create a simple interactive publication,
      just like many users pick up InDesign to paste some stuff together for a simple brochure or leaflet. They don’t want to worry too much about structural preparations, responsiveness, settings, distribution and marketing.

      Adobe very rightfully proved that publishers can set up new business with DPS, but many designers and their clients didn’t get it and won’t ever get it: creating certain interactive features with mysterious Overlays, testing articles in several ways, messing with a Folio Builder, preparing and submitting an app, distributing and managing it… Too much for 9 out of 10 designers and their clients, who just want to create and spread some file that does a jolly song and dance.

      And maybe Adobe will revive the Alternative Layout again, once some of these users do gradually realize they need some way to let a publication ‘resize’ itself. But it might be better to let this need grow from sheer practice (which is obvious trial and error in our enlightened minds), instead of requiring it before-hand. Let’s see how both designers and InDesign evolve in this matter.

      DPS will keep taking the ‘high road’, but I’m sure ePub FXL will serve the ‘long-tail’ of users and use-cases better, and become the vast undertow of digital publishing ‘for the rest of us’. Nothing wrong with that ! 🙂

  10. Pingback: This Week in InDesign Articles, Number 128 | InDesignSecrets

    • Indeed ! Apple was the only one who pulled it off to let designers create an (adapted) ePub 3.0 FXL, already 4 years ago. And they still have a very important feature: hold the iBook landscape orientation: you’ll see the ePub 3 FXL version; hold it in portrait orientation: it will ‘downgrade’ to a reflowable ePub 2 (if the designer produced it correctly), with all typographical user preferences, and imagery in a side bar along the associated text.

  11. Pingback: Adobe Drops DPS Single Edition Support from Creative Cloud | InDesignSecrets

    • I did some heavy experimenting with animations and timing, even looping, see my examples on the pre-release forums Bob, but could not get a simpke slide show ito loop because the image on top would not ‘revert’ (hide after animation) and stays on top. But Obi-wan seem to have just solved that. Could you please share the how with me? It is the loop part, which I assume is in the timing panel linking the animated images, that I could not figure out… Thanks in advance

    • Obi-Wan: what happens here is the following: Fade in effect is set and Hide after Animation as well as Hide untill animation is set. But as soon as they are linked in the Timing panel and set to loop the Hide AFTER animation does not longer work for me, hence not the effect I see in your animation. Can you shine some light here?

    • Well, if you’re a photographer and not a developer, then you should wait patiently for an elegant solution in InDesign to create a scrollable frame. Sheer HTML and JavaScript templates hardly ever offer an elegant solution…

      • I agree but what is cool is the effect when you click on the small image thumbnail, not the slideshow!
        Immediately, I am more concerned by technical feasibilities [InDesign animation effects are relatively limited], not aesthetic effects! 😉

  12. Quite frankly this is very depressing, I started working with DPS when it was in early pre-release, and its been a roller coaster ever since. If DPS was the king of work-a-rounds, then E-Pub is probably going to be the Emperor, at least for sometime, and what if its not successful for Adobe? will they pull the plug again, they had to do it with Flash, now they’re doing it with DPS (basically) Like one of the other comments, if you want to do this stuff, then you have to use native code, its the only way to be secure. I wonder how long the likes of Conde Nast will stay committed? Not withstanding all of this, E-Pubs don’t exist in the App Store… whats the point of moaning….Adobe have made this decision based on financial reasons, if its not making them money then they’re going to pull the plug. If it was my decision, I’d pull the plug too. If the DPS model stays as it is, then I will bet my hat that the whole platform will be killed off in a few years, and replaced by something else. Maybe an Apple product for front end designers, let me think? Has Apple purchased any companies lately that create publishing Apps??

    • They are most certainly not killing DPS. They are removing DPS SE from Creative Cloud and individual licenses. The ability to create SE apps will continue for pro and enterprise customers. I can’t help but think that there’s another shoe yet to drop here. Whether that will be good or bad I don’t know.

      And find myself typing this over and over again, but here it is one more time. I’m not happy about it, but I do understand the business decision. DPS is a service and it looks to me like Adobe wants to keep it completely separate from anything else.

      No other company is offering anything for free.

      • Bob, do not confuse Single ISSUE vs Multiple Issues and the naming of the product Single EDITION (SE). SE stops, from Creative Cloud as well as stand alone product to buy. Single ISSUES still can be made from a Pro/Enterprise account but what is called ‘DPS Single Edition’ will be gone. Do not confuse the user more than needed please 😉

      • A rose by any other name…

        The point is, if you really want a single issue app created you can hunt down an enterprise customer, give him/her your certs and an exported zip file from the DPS dashboard and get the app back to submit. So the product itself is not going away (at least not yet).

    • Alistair, I don’t know where you live, but if you’re on the northern hemisphere, a nasty autumn depression might have got hold of you…

      No-one can pull the ePub plug, it’s an open standard. Flash was popular, but a proprietary technique, not a standard. And it was Apple who pulled the plug, and who thankfully kicked Adobe into an HTML5 direction. ePub is HTML, it bleeds XHTML, and it evolves with HTML5. Adobe isn’t making any money of ePub at this moment, but when users get used to creating and reading ePub, InDesign is King again, and Adobe might develop some similar marketing services like they did with DPS. We’ll see what comes of it.

      DPS is Big Money for Adobe right now, but not so much on the “creative” side of their market, but more on that “green” part of Adobe we – designers – rightfully never care to look at. Marketeers are very happy with DPS and Adobe’s added value concerning all marketing stuff floating around DPS.

      And what will happen in a few years ? We don’t know.
      Tablets have been around for well over four years now, and look what they brought ! So who knows what we’re up to in 4 or 5 years. You really need to think “here and now and a bit of tomorrow” in this industry, these days. Landslides are all over the place and new media are waiting to be discovered around every corner.

    • You mean “excited”, I guess…

      Did no client ever ask you if they could simply email a folio ?
      Did no client ever ask you if they could put it on their website ?
      Did no client ever ask you if they could show it on computers ?
      Did no client ever ask you if they could use the animation panel ?
      Did no client ever ask you if they could launch a folio tomorrow ?
      Did no client ever ask you if they could keep swiping to the right ?
      Did no client ever ask you if they could update the folio quickly ?
      Did no client ever ask you if they could put some ‘hot stuff’ in it ?

  13. I have been looking through this new epub option. How do you get this to work on the web or a cpu in general? Does the viewer have to use adobe digital edition?

    I only have apple devices. Anyone have good experiences with these interactive fixed-layout epub on android devices using google play books?

    If this is supported well on android tablets and android smartphones and pc comupters. I think that this really is huge.

    Apple products seem to be covered since ibooks is on macs, iphones and iPads.

  14. Hi Everyone,

    I for one have produced MANY FXL the hard-coded way in the past, mainly children’s books, and I know how much work the required! So I am really happy to see the evolution of FXL in InDesign.
    I totally agree with Bob as far as the need for scrollable text, which would be a HUGE +.

    Recently, a friend of mine, Jean-Claude Tremblay, pointed out a hack (Obi-wan’s) for scrollable text on Adobe forums. Has anyone ever extensively tried this hack for scrollable text in a full length book, tested and approved on/by multiple platforms/readers and the mighty Apple gates? (Obi-wan himself perhaps?)

    TIA
    Maryse

    • The scrollable frame with CSS works fine! BUT it depends on your reader! On desktop Adobe DE4 (4.03) works fine on Mac and Windows with these frames as of course does iBooks on Mac. However, on tablets (iPad) only iBooks works fine with these fames, DE4 on tablet does not…

  15. Thank you Frans for your quick response! 🙂

    When you say “DE4 on tablet”, I guess you mean Android, Kobo and the likes?
    Maybe I’m wrong… but if it works in iBooks (on iPad), I wouldn’t see the necessity to open it with ADE
    (on the same iPad)…

    I’ve been meaning to approach a client with an interactive FXL solution for a printed book… So I am looking to find some alternatives before I take the plunge! :-/

    • Readers might have a strong preference for an app to read their ePubs with, before we came busting their tablets with ePub 3 FXL. They’re not used to being referred to a required reader for a digital ebook. So we need to make them familiar with the notion that ePub 3 is a totally different animal, which does everything exactly the opposite as the usual ePub 2 did: no reflowable content, no user influence on typography, no freedom in choosing your reading tool, nothing of that.

      It’ just like the dawning of the PDF & Acrobat era: here’s your file, here’s your tool. Get ready reading !

      I truly hope Adobe will push their ADE forward in a really fanatic way and to Android ASAP, because this BlueFire app (and many others) is totally clueless and awfully troublesome.

  16. Hi,

    I think Adobe offerings are very well and good, for those with deep pockets. Adobe stuff does work!

    There are a lot of alternatives that have been listed here. I think one that is missing is the Baker Framework , or, really the developers that are offering way to use Baker.

    The Baker Framework.
    http://www.bakerframework.com/

    Here is our slide show thingy. We do do scrolling stuff too.

    http://www.kerntiff.co.uk/products-4-indesign/baker-export/slide-shows

    (I have to say, that I am involved with the development of this stuff. )

    Just our offering. Google, there are loads out there.

    Best.

  17. So we have another version of InDesign and even an Adobe Digital Editions on iOS. But still no sign of an ePub 3 FXL reader on Android, which is capable of decently handling the sometimes less validated ePubs from InDesign. An Adobe Digital Editions on Android would be the next logical step. Any ideas or clues about this ?

      • Take a look at Adobe’s own demo assets for FXL in ADE4 under windows… It is a total mess! Buttons that do different things in iBooks than ADE4; have an iFrame HTML code (a Google map, YouTube)? Previews fine in InDesign, works great in ADE4, fails completely in iBooks Mac and iPad. Azardi reader under Windows looks fine, but looses font sizes when they are big in headlines..
        We have to test all variations, but Android is the worst.
        Not a ‘professional’ alternative to DPS yet indeed…

  18. Another half a year passed, and STILL no properly working (and supported) ADE version 4.5.x for Android. Not to mention the difficulties with the Windows version…

    I know, Adobe wants us to endorse their overall brilliant Publish Online feature (and probably/hopefully they will expand its services soon), but that’s not enough. Users want to be able to download a file and read it off-line in at least one adequate and trustworthy app.

    I’ve had it, I’m going to bash Adobe on this and will stop promoting ePub FXL as a viable standard. Another promising phenomena lost simply because of a strategy of neglect.

What do you think?