Monday, August 23, 2010

Borrowing library ebooks with a Nook

Update!! You can now borrow library ebooks with your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone as well, using the Bluefire Reader software. See Reading Library Ebooks on iPad with Bluefire, the Easy Way for more details. The information below, up to the point where you download the ebook, may still prove useful if you need help figuring out how to take out a library ebook.)

We're in Barcelona for the year, and like any travelers, had a limited amount of space in our suitcases. Instead of bringing lots of books, I was hoping we could download books to our ereaders: a Nook and an iPad. I have a Nook and not a Kindle because I just wrote a book about EPUB, the open format that is compatible not only with the Nook and the iPad but also with Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), which is used by many public libraries, including ours, the Boston Public Library (BPL). Our library does not support copying ebooks over to the Kindle or iPad, I'd be interested if other libraries do.

The BPL checked out 125,000 ebooks last year, 10,000 of which were in EPUB format. There are 741 different titles in EPUB format, and 1014 total copies of those ebooks. The BPL calls it "Adobe EPUB format" because all the EPUB books that it has are protected with Adobe DRM. That's important because it means that you have to use an authorized version of ADE to open the ebook and then copy it to your ereader.

The BPL has ebooks in other formats as well: 2475 Adobe PDF titles (also protected with Adobe DRM), and 948 Mobipocket titles (readable on a PC and some mobile devices but not the Kindle).

I had a bit of trouble getting EPUB and PDF books to my Nook, so I thought I'd write up my experiences and maybe save you some trouble.

Before we begin, let me tell you that every Massachusetts resident is entitled to get a Boston Public Library e-card which gives you access to the BPL's ebooks. Your local network (like C/W Mars in Western Mass) may have additional ebooks available as well, though their collection is likely to be smaller. C/W Mars for example, has only 176 Adobe EPUB ebooks. You can find more information about getting a BPL e-card on the BPL site.

I am going to use the BPL in this tutorial, but the instructions should work in any library system that uses Overdrive to manage their digital resources.

My first mistake was to try to download books before I had authorized Adobe Digital Editions and my Nook. I couldn't make the books that I downloaded before authorizing ADE and my Nook work.  So, before you do anything else, download Adobe Digital Editions. Once it's installed, the Setup Assistant will ask if you want to authorize it. You have to have an Adobe ID to do so. If you don't have one, take a quick detour to create one by clicking the "get an Adobe ID online" link, or go directly to the Adobe Sign in page. Then click Create an Adobe Account.

Then return to Adobe Digital Editions and add your Adobe account information to the Authorize window.

Authorize ADE

Now you're ready to authorize the Nook. Close ADE, plug in the Nook, and then open ADE again. (I've found that if you plug the Nook in when ADE is already open, ADE won't see the Nook.) ADE will ask you if you want to authorize the Nook. Click the Authorize button. This step allows the Nook to link to your Adobe ID and thus be able to read your DRMd ebooks from the library. If you've done it right, when you click the left-most icon in ADE (three little books on a shelf), you should see Nook listed under the Bookshelves.

Nook in ADE

If you happen to not do these steps in this order, you can deauthorize ADE on your computer by pressing Command-Shift-D on a Mac (or Control-Alt-D on Windows) and then start over again.

Once you have ADE and the nook authorized, you can go to BPL and take out the ebooks you want.

We'll begin at the main page for the BPL's digital resources: We want to download an EPUB book for the Nook, so click on the Advanced Search tab and then choose Adobe EPUB eBook in the Format menu, and check the Only show titles with copies available option. Of course, if you're searching for a particular book, you can put in more criteria under Title or Creator/Composer.

Initial Search EPUB BPL

If you want to browse like me, leave the Title and Creator fields blank. Click Search. You'll see a list of available EPUBs. You'll see that each title lists its available formats. Since we chose Adobe EPUB eBooks, every book listed will be in that format (at least). Once you find a book you like, click the Add to Cart link at the right-hand side.

EPUB titles at BPL

You can add additional books to your cart if you like. When you're ready to check out, click the Proceed to Checkout link.

My Cart BPL

If you haven't logged in already, you'll be prompted to do so.

Log in BPL

You'll get one final screen where you can confirm which books you're downloading, the length of time for which you're borrowing them (either 7 or 14 days), and the format in which you're downloading them. You'll also be able to see how many items you have checked out already and how many more you are allowed to borrow.

Check out BPL

When you're satisfied, click the Confirm check out button at the bottom of the screen.

Once you've borrowed the book, you'll get a download button for the corresponding file.

Download BPL

Click the Download button. Now you'll get an alert that says you're downloading a file and if you want to open it with any program in particular. Hopefully, Adobe Digital Editions will be selected by default. (If you want to read this library book on your iPad or iPhone, you should install the special link to Blufire and click its bookmark now instead of the Download button. See Reading Library Ebooks on iPad with Bluefire, the Easy Way for more details.)

Download OK

Click OK to continue. Adobe Digital Editions will automatically open and you'll see a progress bar showing how your borrowed book is being downloaded.

Adobe Digital Editions - progress

Once it has finished downloading, it will appear in your Adobe Digital Editions Library list.

Now the only step left is to copy the borrowed book to your Nook. To do so, make sure you're in Library mode (click the icon of the three little books in the top left corner of ADE), and find the newly borrowed book. Then drag it to the Nook bookshelf (under Bookshelves in the left navigation bar).

Copy to Nook

(If you don't see Nook in your Bookshelves, it's because a) you didn't authorize it as described earlier, or b) you unplugged it from your computer, or c) you plugged it in after you opened ADE (in which case you should quit and reopen ADE).

And that's all there is to it! (!)

EPUB books are automatically “returned” at the end of the borrowing period, but you can return them early by clicking the arrow next to the book title in ADE and choosing Return Borrowed Item. You might want to do this in order to borrow something new.

Return Borrowed Item

Leave questions in the comments. I'd also love to hear if your library system works the same way.

Just for the record, it really shouldn't be this hard. The problem is DRM. If these books were not copy protected, you could copy them to any ereader that you owned, just like you can read books from the library in any room in your house! But I'll try to not go off on a DRM rant here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Publishing to Apple's iBookstore

I wrote a whole book on how to create EPUB files that you can upload to Apple's iBookstore, but what do you do once the EPUB is complete?

Apple announced in May that they were opening up the iBookstore to anyone who could satisfy certain requirements, including, but not limited to having a Intel-based Mac, having an ISBN for the book you want to distribute, having an EPUB file, having a US Tax ID, and finally, having a valid iTunes Store account.

You have to apply to Apple to be accepted as a publisher in the iBookstore. To do so, start at iTunes Connect. They will explain all of the requirements in more detail, and once you are accepted, you will be able to download iTunes Producer, which is the program you will use to upload your EPUB files to Apple. You can choose to apply DRM to your titles, or you can leave them DRM free.

But, contrary to an article I read today, Apple does accept your EPUB files as is, there is no conversion required or applied.

And, for those of you outside the US, don't forget that you can create and sell EPUBs directly from your own sites. It's not a perfect solution, but people can buy and download your books and then upload them to their iPads.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review copies of EPUB Straight to the Point

I've already gotten some lovely reviews of my new book, EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating ebooks for the Apple iPad and other ereaders.

Joel Friedlander, in his review on his popular website, The Book Designer, said, “The book itself is conclusive proof that we no longer have to consider the EPUB books we’ve been reading inevitable, a limitation of the software standard itself. Liz Castro has cracked the code on creating beautiful, functional ebooks. Liz shows in a lucid, logical and humane style exactly how to do everything you see in the book itself.” You can find the complete review here.

And just this week, on Epublishers Weekly, Michael Pastore wrote, “I am wildly enthusiastic about this new book by Elizabeth Castro: EPUB Straight to the Point. Beginners will learn all the essentials, thanks to the many illustrations (screen shots) and the step-by-step instructions that never fail to be clear. EPUB professionals and experts — and I am one of these — will find dozens of ideas for transforming ordinary-looking ebooks into ones that are beautifully designed.” Complete review here.

You can buy the DRM-free EPUB edition right from my site, or in print from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or from my publisher, Peachpit Press.

And if you want to review my book on your site, just let me know, preferably in the next 24 hours or so. I have a stack of books I'd love to give away, and I'm about to leave the country for a bit!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Apple releases new guidelines for video

As I mentioned last week after seeing how Nixonland was in the iBookstore with embedded video using HTML5 tags, the situation in Apple's iBookstore had to change. Nixonland didn't satisfy one of Apple's primary requirements—passing EpubCheck validation—since EPUB 2.01 requires XHTML 1.1 and not HTML5. Either Apple had to change the rules, or admit that it had bent them just for Simon and Schuster.

As I expected, Apple changed the rules. In its new Publisher User Guide 1.3, released late today to publishers in the iBookstore, it no longer even mentions EpubCheck, though it continues to require that books comply with EPUB 2.01 while at the same time expressly allowing audio and video embedding. The new guide also explains how to embed PDFs and links.

The actual code explained in the guide is no different from that which I already explained in this blog and just uses basic HTML5 tags to embed both audio and video.

I have uploaded a new EPUB book, called Embedding Audio and Video in EPUB to the iBookstore as a bit of a test. You can download that document and study the code it contains. Pay particular attention to the video and audio elements, as well as how they are declared in the content.opf file. I have included step-by-step instructions as well.

My enhanced ebook doesn't strictly satisfy every single requirement set forth in the new guide. For starters, I don't have the Compressor 3.5 tool that the guide says is necessary as it is only available as part of Final Cut Pro. Instead I have used QuickTime. I also haven't added black frames at the beginning and end of each video, although the guide says this is important. I noted that Apple's own sample doesn't have black frames either. There are also fairly stringent specified requirements for frame rate, source material, and other more advanced video topics. As soon as I can sleuth out how serious these requirements are, I'll report back. I'll also let you know if and when my ebook is accepted into the iBookstore.

I am pleased that Apple has released these new guidelines. My only wish is that they would release them publicly so that we could all pore over them, make tests, and figure out exactly how this is going to work. Apple needs us all to create content. They should make it easy for us.

Just for the record, before anyone starts saying EPUB is dead again, note that I believe that EPUB will eventually encompass HTML5. I don't have any backroom knowledge about this, it just seems logical that it will, that it must. But that won't make it any less EPUB, since it will still require the content.opf and toc.ncx to combine the XHTML 1.1 or HTML5 files into a defined, reflowable unit, that is, an ebook.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

EPUB will be the Universal Standard for eBooks

Mike Cane has a provocative (as ever!) post up today, ePub is Not Universal, So Stop the BS. It all started when I posted this to Twitter:

Thinking about AMZN rumor @katerados and DK news (investing in iPad apps), and thinking apps keep AMZN out #eprdctn

I think it's a shame that Dorling Kindersley might shutter their beautiful books behind iPad apps instead of taking advantage of the EPUB standard in order to make them available to any EPUB compatible reader. It's pretty short-sighted.

EPUB will eventually win out because it's an open-source standard based on the already universal standard that is HTML. It is text-based and non-proprietary which means that any computer can read it. That means any desktop computer, any mobile computer, any tablet.

Mike worries about different engines in different ereaders, but though that has caused headaches for web designers, it has not stopped HTML from being the universal language of web pages. Internet Explorer and Firefox have different engines, but have joined in the end to support HTML standards and display HTML the same way.

He also complains about DRM, but that is a bit like complaining about different web portals requiring log-ins. If Facebook makes me sign in to use their site, that doesn't make HTML any less universal.

I started writing books about writing HTML in 1995. I am convinced that the reason that the web grew at the rate that it did was because anyone could write HTML, anyone could create their own web site and publish what they wanted to say. They didn't need expensive tools or credentials. And what they wrote could be read by anyone on the internet.

EPUB, based on HTML, has the same power. You can write an EPUB document with any free text editor. And while it's true that there are a fair number of details to keep in mind, you don't have to be a programmer or have an advanced degree. I am convinced that anyone can do it. (I even wrote a book about it to make it easier, but that's not my point here.)

Will EPUB be based on XHTML 1.1 or HTML5? It doesn't matter. HTML5 is backwards compatible and so any ereader that accepts HTML5 will also accept the current flavor of EPUB.

And on the other side? You can read EPUB with any one of many free non-proprietary ereaders. EPUB is HTML, ereaders are browsers. Both are universal.

The web is what it is because it belongs to all of us. The barriers to participation are incredibly low. EPUB will win because it has 6 billion people and HTML behind it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What Nixonland means for EPUB

Update, 25 May 2011: I have recently published a new miniguide explaining exactly how to add audio and video files to your EPUB formatted ebooks so that they work properly and look great in iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, as well as NOOK Color. You can find more information in this article.

I wrote last week about Simon and Schuster's new “enhanced” edition of Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, with vintage videos, that had made it into Apple's iBookstore, despite not being able to pass EpubCheck 1.0.5, one of Apple's stipulated requirements for inclusion.

There are a couple of reasons why this is so significant. First of all, it implies that Apple has no interest in supporting XHTML 1.1's object element, which is an existing way of embedding video that would have passsed EpubCheck. I have experimented with many different permutations of the object element with iBooks with no luck at all. It not only doesn't show video, it doesn't fall back to the alternate content. Bascially iBooks doesn't seem to support object at all.

Second, it marks Apple's, and perhaps EPUB's, path toward HTML5. It is no coincidence that the one non-complying piece of Nixonland is a tag from HTML5. Not an Apple proprietary extension, not a weird JavaScript, but part of the language that both Apple and Google have been heavily promoting for the last year or so. How long can it be before EPUB supports HTML5, EpubCheck validates HTML5, and Nixonland and other video-containing ebooks are legitimate entries in the iBookstore?

Third, it's interesting to note that Nixonland uses .m4v videos, and that those videos are properly declared in the content.opf file as video/mpeg4. I recommend the rest of us do the same.

Fourth, there is no sign of audio in the Nixonland sample files, Apple says, "This book is enhanced with content such as audio or video..." but actually it turns out to be all video. I think that's because HTML5's audio element isn't yet fully baked (or supported). I can get audio to work, but it's buggy at best. (More on that soon.)

Fifth, the Nixonland sample contains four videos which all together contain eleven minutes and 15 seconds of video. The sample weighs in at 127Mb. The full book takes up 447 Mb. That's a pretty hefty file. Assuming the same quality, that means the full book has about 39 minutes and 34 seconds of video.

Finally, what I think Nixonland only begins to demonstrate is why we want video in a book anyway. I'm not a Nixon aficionado, so I can't begin to judge the usefulness and relevance of these videos given the surrounding text, but I'd be interested to hear what others think.

I've created a new, but still tiny example of a video enhanced ebook (with explanations) so you can pull it apart and look at the code, and also see why it might be a good idea to have videos in ebooks. There's a bit at the end with more explicit instructions. Even though it's tiny, with just 7 short videos, it still takes up 50 Mb! Note that the only errors that this book generated in EpubCheck are due to the use of the video element; that is, exactly the same errors that Nixonland produces.

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