There’s been some healthy discussion, instigated by Mike Cane, about whether ePub can provide a visually-appealing reading experience. I recommend the related discussion on TeleRead, especially the comments.
There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on, but my feeling is that it reduces down to two statements:
- Reading systems need to fully support HTML/CSS. Realistically this means they must be based on WebKit or a similar mature HTML rendering engine. A home-grown engine like Adobe Digital Editions is often a source of frustration for ePub producers and readers.
- ePub producers need to take responsibility to understand how to correctly mark up their books. The best thing you can do when getting started is minimize your use of styles and custom formatting. Later, bring on an HTML/CSS expert to help fine-tune the layout.
Where I disagree with Mike is the idea that a beautiful ebook needs to precisely mimic its print equivalent. For born-digital works this obviously doesn’t apply at all, and the ability to read an ebook on devices of varying screen sizes and capabilities means that pixel-perfect rendering isn’t even desirable. Anybody with an ereader who’s tried to read PDFs on them is familiar with this problem.
What does need to improve are the defaults. This is where Apple tends to excel, by providing beautiful interfaces out-of-the-box.
But I also recently worked on a project to replace an unmaintainable website that was generated by Apple’s web-building software. It looked great in Safari but was totally unusable for the visually-impaired community, a substantial fraction of the target audience. I’m afraid an Apple ereading solution would be just as much of a beautiful cage.
Luckily, mature web browsers + high-quality HTML + reasonable CSS can produce some lovely results already. Here’s Mike’s test document in Bookworm’s new Reading Mode. I happen to think this looks nice.
But it’s much more important for ebook creators to proof the content rather than the layout. Check that the line breaks are right, that words aren’t run together, and that special characters are displayed properly. (The last Kindle book I purchased had numerous spacing errors — not bad enough to return it, but annoying for something that cost $6.00).