Why Pages Matter and What We’re Doing about It in Editoria

I came up for air recently try to catch up on what’s been going on in scholarly publishing. I love Bill Trippe’s Flipboard magazine on university press publishing, and I value the crowdsourced knowledge of all the hundreds of folks I follow on Twitter, but I wanted a deeper dive.  I wanted to create my own news stream, so I installed a good old fashioned RSS reader, and started loading up some of my favorite blogs and websites.  Today, I am going to use my limited powers of social media persuasion to encourage readers of this blog to check out the new Paged Media blog.

Paged Media was started by Dave Cramer of Hachette and Adam Hyde of Collaborative Knowledge Foundation.  In addition to contributions from its founders, Paged Media so far has contributions from several folks who are trying to make the open web support books and other paginated content better:

Paged Media is dedicated to a simple mission: “To educate and inspire publishers to use HTML, CSS and JavaScript(JS) to produce print and paginated electronic content.”

But some of you may be asking, “In this era of digital scholarly publishing, why is pagination important?”  I can tell you that pagination is crucially important to digital scholarly publishing, and it has been a critical development concern for Editoria.  Why?  Consider these use cases, reprinted from the first public working draft of the W3C’s “Portable Web Publications Use Cases and Requirements” document:

  • Ann reads War and Peace, which, when printed, is over 1200 pages. In order to have a better sense of her progress in the book and to make navigation within the book easier (i.e., to support usability) she decides to switch her reading environment to paged view.
  • Susan uses CSS, images, flexboxes, and more to create a rich, interactive publication on the history of a city. Each major historical milestone is defined as a standalone unit that would be a single page when printed, with a timeline with the main events in the footer area of the page.
  • Fatima wants to choose between a scrolled view and a paginated view of content that extends across multiple HTML documents.
  • IndyPublisher wants to provide transition effects between pages, both within and across content documents.
  • Mr. Oayia, a classroom teacher, says, “turn to page 137 of your textbook.” Students with both print and digital editions need to find the same text.

All of these are use cases that regularly present themselves in long-form scholarly communications, and any systems built to support text-based scholarly communications, including Editoria, need to be able to support them in some fashion. While the Portable Web Publication is being developed to enhance HTML-based formats to accommodate pagination, a lot of the functionality that is represented in these use cases can already be found in the good old PDF.

Our approach to this with Editoria has been to use the Vivliostyle CSS typesetting engine.  Vivliostyle has allowed us to develop the Editoria application in a way that supports both paginated (PDF) and non-paginated (EPUB) outputs at the end of the book production process.  While pages, particularly printed pages, have their limitations (eg. multimedia content), in many cases, pages are critically important to monographs as well as to the production other types of scholarly and educational materials, and to making them useful to readers.

While controversial, the proposed IDPF/W3C merger, if successful, and the work of the group developing the portable web publication specification may eventually succeed in bringing much of the functionality necessary to represent the concept of pagination to the EPUB specification.  The W3C is the right forum for this work to be done, and would likely help advance the use cases for pagination that scholarly publishing demands of EPUB and help abolish the bifurcation of the PDF/EPUB world and our reliance on the two-dimensional PDF format.  If that world emerges, Editoria will stand ready to support it. For now, most monographs will have pages, and Editoria will be developed in such a way that those pages can be represented at the end of the production process, and allow publishers using the system to give readers the choice of whether they prefer to read in paginated or unpaginated formats.

 

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