Monday, December 5, 2011

Mobile eBook Templates - A Technology Solution to Save Costs for Interactive eBook Development

Publishers are increasingly interested in developing interactive ebooks accessible from tablets, smartphones and book readers. The cost of development can be prohibitive, depending on the type of content and level of interactivity desired. There is no getting away from mobile ebooks, because the emerging digital tsunami of newer mobile phones, reader devices and tablets continues unabated, and publishers must catch the new wave of eBooks by supporting these devices - web publishing for computers is not enough. 

One factor fueling the growth of ebooks is the aggressive pricing set by publishers.  With price tags as low as $0.99, readers are flocking to these books. 

At the same time, cost of development is an important consideration. Publishers need effective technology options for supporting interactive content development with minimal costs. 

One such option is template-based content development. The attractiveness of this option has been known. At the same time, the development of platform-specific templates can be costly. With industry standard specifications and formats such as HTML5  and ePUB, however, it has become more realistic to attempt building cross-platform templates.

Based on my experience of work with leading publishers in this area, here is a short checklist for template developers.

·         1. Adjusting to form factor: 
         With each form factor the screen real estate varies and the content template needs to adjust to the reading area. The new standards like ePUB3 with HTML5 support, which are capable of self-adjusting to the screen sizes, are fast picking up.         

            2. Loose coupling between interactivity and back-end computing: 
         Often e-books include back-end computing engines. For example, in an e-learning context, there may be a score computation. The reader is evaluated as he/she is working through an interaction. When the template provides flexibility to easily replicate/replace such interactions keeping the scoring and other logical computations intact, we say that loose coupling has been achieved. This is desirable in many situations when you want to re-use back-end computation while changing the front-end interactivity.

·         3. Device Capability Utilization: 
         With ongoing releases of newer mobile platforms and devices the publishing output must be well supported on these. Templates must be designed to keep minimal efforts for achieving compatibility. For example, a template should have hooks where native device capabilities such as text-to-speech could be accessed from. Other examples of native capabilities include touch/swipe gestures or sync with audio, accelerometer or device orientations.   
       4. Digital Rights Management (DRM) support: 
         The templates need to honor the DRM configurations to ensure content copyrights are protected.

·          5. Annotation support: 
        Truly participative reading experience and user generated content is another trend evident in new ebooks. They provide the ability to bookmark, highlight texts, annotate and share. The templates need to provide flexibility to carry all the metadata configurations for such user activities.

Overall the mobile ebook templates would have more challenges to address but the payoff is worth the trouble. Mobile templates help create more interactive and engaging experience for the readers affordably. 

- This post was contributed by Umesh Kanade, our guest author.  Umesh Kanade has architected numerous content publishing solutions and works as DGM - Technology Solutions with Harbinger Systems, a Harbinger Group company.