eBooks: Pages and the EPub Format

by Patrick Kammermeyer on May 18, 2011

Ebooks are now a common part of our digital landscape. This year promises to bring a significant increase in the number of choices of tablet-like mobile devices, which is likely to continue to fuel the astonishing growth of ebook consumption. But ebook consumption isn’t the only area that is likely to experience tremendous growth this year. It appears that ebook production has arrived for the common man/woman.

Ebooks can be produced in a variety of formats. However, the vast majority of ebook platforms read the EPub format. (One notable exception to this is Amazon’s Kindle, which reads MOBI and PDF formats.) The EPub format is an open standard for ebooks announced by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) in 2007. Because EPub is both popular and open, I will focus this post on ebooks created in the EPub format.

Generally, there are two ways to produce an EPub document. One way is to convert an existing document to the EPub format using conversion software. The second way is to build an EPub document from scratch using creation software.

Converting To EPub
This list is relatively small, but I expect it to grow significantly in the next year or two.

Software for EPub conversion:

Online EPub conversion:

Format conversion is always a tricky process, and the results can vary widely depending on which formats are involved and which software is used to produce those formats. My current favorite among the list of converters is Calibre. As of this writing, Calibre can convert the following formats to EPub: CBZ, CBR, CBC, CHM, EPUB, FB2, HTML, LIT, LRF, MOBI, ODT, PDF, PRC**, PDB, PML, RB, RTF, TCR,  and TXT. And, Calibre is free!

Creating EPubs from Scratch
There is a larger list of software designed to create EPub books from scratch.

Software for EPub Creation

Online EPub Creation

 

Note: The landscape for ebook production is changing rapidly, so these lists are likely to become obsolete very quickly. Please feel free to add, subtract, or make amendments to them in the comments area below.

 

Creating An Ebook in Pages

Apple’s Pages has had the ability to export to the EPub format since the release of iWork 9.0.4 in August of 2010. At that time, Pages had some rough edges when it came to producing a well-formatted ebook. When Apple released Pages 4.0.5 in January, 2011, it greatly improved the semantics of their EPub export. Today, with some attention to a few details and methods, you can create an EPub-formatted ebook quickly and easily in Pages.

 

Getting Started
The best way to get started with creating an ebook in Pages is to download a template that Apple has specifically created for making ebooks. This template can be downloaded here: eBook Template

Ebook Styles in Pages

Ebook styles in Pages

When you open this file in Pages, you’ll notice styles in the Styles Drawer that are specific to tagging an ebook. These styles are applied to the elements of your book to properly format the document for the ePub export.

You should also note that the pages in this document have some examples of how these styles can be applied to text, and a brief explanation of when best to use them.

You may change many of the characteristics of these styles to suit your needs without disrupting the EPub format. In fact, I’ve found the font size of some of these styles to be too large for my tastes, especially the Author, Title, Subtitle, and Chapter Name styles. The one thing you do not want to do is change the style names.

Dealing With Images
There are a few things to keep in mind as you create your book. If you will be inserting images into your book, you must make sure that you set them to be

Inspector palette in Pages

Make sure images are inline.

“inline” images. That is, the images flow with the text rather than independent of the text. To do that, click on the image, and in the Inspector click on the Wrap Inspector tab, then click on the Inline (moves with text) radio button. This assures that the images in your ebook stay with the appropriate text even when the ebook reader adjusts the font sizes.

Images can wrap in 6 different ways. You’ll need to check the Object causes wrap checkbox on the Inspector pane. Then click on one of the six illustrations below this checkbox to indicate how the image will behave in the text. The illustrations provide an efficient way of explaining how each work.

Dealing With Font Sizes
Remember that, depending on the eReader being used to read your ebook, the user will have some control over fonts and fonts sizes. Generally, you should stay away from large font sizes that produce awkward breaks in titles or headings, and small fonts that are hard to read by default.

Embedding Audio & Video
Adding audio and video files to your ebook is really a good way to begin to explore the full potential of this media. Currently, there is no mandatory support for any audio or video file format in EPub. However, it appears that the IDPF is headed that way.

In the meantime, Apple supports both audio and video insertion into epub for their devices. In Pages, you simply drag and drop the audio or video file onto the page and make sure it’s inline. However, there are two very important details to keep in mind:

  1. Audio files must be in .MP3 or .m4a format
  2. Video files must be in .m4v format

 

Testing Your eBook Along The Way
The best way to perfect the look and feel of your ebook is to export your Pages document to the ePub format and test on an ebook reader. This process is simple. I find myself going through this process several times in the creation of an ebook.

Exporting to epub

Exporting to epub format

First, save your Pages document. Then, under the Share menu choose Export… This brings up a window indicating the export options.

Click on the ePub tab at the top and then click on the Next… button. Save the epub to your computer’s desktop.

Getting The Ebook to Your Reader
There are several ways to get the ePub file to your ebook reader, but I will go over the two easiest ways.

The first is simply to email the ePub file to yourself as an attachment. Then open the email on your ebook reader device and send it to your eReader. On an iPad or iPhone, clicking on the ePub file attachment brings up a dialogue box asking if you’d like to send it to iBooks. It then sends it to iBook and opens your book for you to begin reading.

The second way is open iTunes on your computer and then drag the ePub file into iTunes. This places the file into the Books area in iTunes. Then you simply sync your iPad/iPhone to your computer and the book appears in your iBooks library.

 

The Future of Ebooks

It’s clear that the publishing industry is scrambling to adjust to the ebook market. New all-ebook publishing houses, like Open Road Media, are sprouting and beginning to cull through back-list titles to renegotiate ebook rights.

This trend also brings some interesting options for educators who may want to self-publish, or simply move their material into an ebook form. A previous post on this blog looked at self publishing using Smashwords, one of the online publishing and distribution houses. (See also LuluWordclay, Blub, iUniverse, Xlibris, and Booksurge to name a few.) But the tools to create and self publish ebooks are now available on our desktops. This relatively recent trend makes it much easier for us to become both author and publisher. And, when you’re ready to distribute your ebook, why not just make a link on your website, blog, or LMS?

To download this post as an ebook (with an audio and video embed example),
click here: eBooks: Pages and the EPub Format

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