Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What is EPUB?

Shopping for an ebook reader? Watching the changing textbook market? One term you might see in the media is “EPUB". This unfamiliar term could be essential for making informed consumer choices.  eBooks have been following a path similar to the history of digital music. Since the 1970s, Project Gutenberg has been digitizing classic texts into plain text(or txt), which can be read on literally any device. Some companies have created their own formats over the years, which usually work with one device or app. Some people bought many ebooks to read on their Palm Pilot in the 1990s, and are now unable to read them on their new ebook readers or tablets.

In 2007, a new format was introduced to make a standard type of file that would be readable by many devices and apps. This format is EPUB(for electronic publication).  EPUB is designed to work with many devices, and the standard is open for any programmer to refer to. The pages re-scale to fit the size of any screen. EPUB can be used with or without licensing lock-down, so can be used for both paid and free documents. Like your music files, they contain information on the author, date, cover art, etc. This is the most compatible format to date, and should be an important consideration.

Considerations for Educators

If you buy an ebook in Kindle or other proprietary format now, will you still be able to read your book in 5-10 years when some other device is popular?  If your school, class, or program adopts an ebook format that is only available on one device, will all students be able to afford that device? Perhaps a format that can be used on many different devices is more appropriate.

Do you, your program, department, or college, ever develop your own classroom materials? Industry standard authoring apps, such as Adobe InDesign, already support EPUB. There are also Open Source authoring options available for free. If you would like to create your own student handbook, workbook, field guide, or other materials in a format students can read on most ebook readers and apps, these software applications will help you get started:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Finding a New Publishing Model

One of the more frustrating parts of living in the digital age is that our methods no longer match our capabilities. We have the capability of sending "reams" of information to each other virtually for free, but this capability may effectively strip a person or publisher of one reward for creation: payment. Without sales, there will not be royalties, and one less impetus for people to create great works.

This is especially frustrating with older works. Several faculty members of my acquaintance have a favorite book or article they wish to use in their class, only to find the out-of-print words are difficult to legally share in online courses. In one case, the original publisher had been bought out more than once since the time the text was published, making it very difficult to hunt down the copyright holder.

No one is making any royalties, and the information isn't easily available. Everyone is losing.

Gluejar, and their website "unglue.it" may provide an answer to some of the unwieldy modern academic copyright conundrums. The concept is fascinating: Find out what books people wish were available with digital ease. Seek out copyright holders and figure out the price: How much would copyright holders want to be paid once (in lieu of future royalties) to make the work available under a Creative Commons License? How much would it cost to digitally convert the work? What is Gluejar's commission for helping to organize this? Once the math is agreed upon, make an announcement and allow interested individuals to fund the project (crowdfunding).

After the project is successfully funded, the book will be made digitally available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives license (I would imagine another CC license of the copyright holder's choosing would also be possible). Libraries can offer downloads. The information is available to anyone who cares to download it, the copyright holders still get recognition, and the copyright holders were paid for their valuable contribution.

It's a pretty radical departure from a traditional publishing model, but there's certainly a market that could benefit from this updated approach. While it's unlikely to be adopted by books which currently enjoy large commercial success, there are many academic and university publishers I hope take advantage of this intriguing opportunity to have their works "unglued."

The project is going to "soft launch" this winter. You can read more at the following links:

Article at The Digital Shift: "Gluejar to Make Soft Launch of Website at ALA Midwinter"
Gluejar website: http://gluejar.com/
Unglue.it website: https://unglue.it/