Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Visual TOC for Fixed Layout EPUBs

Last night, Anne-Marie Concepción took a look at my new Fixed Layout EPUB book, “Barcelona Beyond Gaudí” and pointed out that the navigational TOC was made out of thumbnails of the individual pages instead of text descriptions.

I wish I could say I had done that on purpose, but although I noticed in Apple's new iBookstore Asset Guide (4.7 rev2) that they had mentioned how to create such a thumbnail-based TOC, I was so focused on the Javascript and geolocation parts of the project that I didn't even notice the TOC until Anne-Marie pointed it out.

But actually, it's a bit more complicated (or simple) than that. It turns out that iBooks creates visual “Thumbnail TOCs” for Fixed Layout books by default. You don't have to do anything special. When a visitor clicks the TOC button, the Thumbnail TOC is what appears by default, along with two buttons that let you switch between the Thumbnail and Text TOCs:

Both TOCs

Frankly, the Thumbnail TOC is pretty perfect for a fixed layout ebook that's based on photos like this one. It makes much more sense to be able to jump to the desired image than to try to figure out which one is which from an abbreviated bit of text in a text-based TOC.

But, if your visitor wants the text TOC, all they have to do is click the List icon at the right of the screen (next to the Bookmark icon).

Text TOC in Fixed Layout

The instructions in the iBookstore Asset Guide shows you not how to create the Thumbnail TOC but how to get rid of the Text TOC. Not sure why you'd want to, as it's not harming anyone back there and is pretty hidden as it is, but to get rid of it, simply specify a single navPoint in your toc.ncx file:

<text>Barcelona Beyond Gaudí</text>

  <navPoint id="p3" playOrder="3">
    <text>Barcelona Beyond Gaudí</text>
  <content src="page06.xhtml" />

Now when your reader views the TOC, they'll see only the thumbnail one, with no List button to switch to Text view.

No text TOC

If you'd like to buy this first book in my Barcelona Beyond Gaudí series, it's available right now from my own site, and has no DRM so that you can look inside. It should be up any day now (come, on Apple!) on the iBookstore in the US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. (I'd do more if there were more!) If you want more information about creating Fixed Layout EPUBs, you might be interested in buying my miniguide to Fixed Layout EPUB.


  1. And for your next gig, Liz, you should contact Apple about writing up their iBooks/ePub documentation! :D

  2. @Anne-Marie. LOL. If I could only get them to talk to me. Know anybody?

  3. Apple and Amazon share a similar trait. Both fear outsiders and typically see them as primarily thieves of ideas and new products.

    I live in Seattle and last night I went to a presentation on Amazon Web Services at Amazon's new headquarters. At similar Adobe events, I talk quite openly with InDesign developers and marketers. I had hoped for the same at this Amazon event. There'd be knowledgable people to answer questions, I thought, along with to sales people promoting AWS, and tables loaded with literature. I saw none of that. There was simply good food and a speaker who talked, in deliberately vague terms, about building large server farms. Useful, but not very revealing about even the public facts about AWS. Strangely, I learned more about AWS from fellow guests, developers and a Microsoft rep who was there, than I did from Amazon.

    That's what an excessive focus on secrecy does to a business. It cuts it off from mutually beneficial conversations. To avoid any possibility of a slip of the tongue, all conversations become guarded. If Liz had friends at Apple, and many of them would probably want to be her friend, one of them might let slip hints about some new Apple plan. That's can't happen, so friendships become difficult or impossible to establish.

    It's sad really.


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