We need to build better e-books

We need to build better e-books

At the FutureBook Live conference on November 30th, Nick Barreto, Canelo’s technology director, will be running a one-hour workshop exploring his unique digital-first approach to making e-books. Here he explains why he thinks it's important - and the issues the industry needs to be tackling.


When I think about making e-books 'better', I think there are a few different aspects that we need to think about. Better e-books should be:

  • Semantic
  • Accessible
  • Beautiful
  • Thoughtful

Semantic, because without meaning we don't have e-books, we have manuscripts. A correctly marked-up and tagged text file is not only going to display and read better, it's also future-proof, more easily read by those with disabilities and more compact.

Accessible, in the sense I mentioned above for those with disabilities (which doesn't only mean those with permanent disabilities by the way – people have temporary, situational disabilities too. I've been using the hands-free navigation functions on my computer a lot more often now I have a young baby), but also in the sense that it needs to be readily available in whatever formats readers want, at a reasonable price.

Beautiful, yes. Because design matters. It's far more pleasant to read and indeed one is more likely to be able to better retain information and concentrate on a well-laid out text than otherwise. And although the typesetting may be done by the e-reader's rendering engine, as an e-book producer, you can go a long way to helping that rendering along to build a nicer and more pleasant reading experience.

Which brings us finally to being Thoughtful, which I think is a nice way to think about usability. Have you thought about where your e-book should begin? Or whether anyone is actually going to want to flip through 30 pages of single-column glossary to get to another part of the end matter? Does the way a particular piece of information is conveyed make sense in a digital context?

Each of these points overlap with one another and encompass various topics, which include:

  • Formats
  • Markup
  • Transformations/Re-use
  • Workflow
  • Usability
  • Design

But there's probably a lot more in there as well – portability, pricing, availability: it's easy to just keep going. Which is the why my session at FutureBook Live, tackling these sort of topics, will be totally flexible and interactive to suit your challenges and needs.

We can explore or talk about whichever points you find most interesting, or have the most questions about. Do you want to learn about regular expressions? Decide whether it's still worth including an NCX in your EPUB3? Have you heard about PWP? Do you use the adjacency selector in your CSS? Where do you set the start point in your e-books? How can you use markdown to produce clean HTML more quickly?

Bring all your questions, doubts and things you're curious about but didn't know who to ask. We can dive into the topics that interest you, or do some live coding to understand the differences in CSS declarations in relation to specificity or the cascade, or show you how good quality markup can lead to incredibly fast production of new formats, including print.

Let's build better e-books together - readers need us to!

FutureBook Live takes place on 30th November in London, at 155 Bishopsgate. The full programme can be accessed here, and tickets can be bought here.