Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Miniguide: Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks

In June, Apple made it possible to add an audio track to fixed layout EPUB files, and associate the audio track with the actual text in the book. Users can then have the book read to them. This has obvious uses in children's books, but could also be interesting for poetry, language books, and what about plays with built-in dramatic readings!

Ever since Apple announced the feature, I have been getting requests for help on setting up Read Aloud EPUBs. I'm happy to announce the publication of my new, third EPUB miniguide: Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks. In this new miniguide, I explain how to mark each word in your fixed layout EPUB (no, not by hand!), how to create the audio track, and how to associate the three files so that the words are highlighted as the audio is played. I also explain how to create stop and start buttons and add a background soundtrack.

This new third miniguide is 44 pages long, available in both EPUB and PDF formats, comes with a working Read Aloud sample, and sells for $5. Like the other two miniguides, it is a companion guide to EPUB Straight to the Point and not a replacement for it. Because the Read Aloud feature only works with fixed layout books, you may wish to purchase my Fixed Layout EPUB for iPad and iPhone as well.


  1. Yay Liz!!! Can't wait to dig into this guide :)

  2. What bothers me with Apple's extension is how to set up the ambient music so that it's on by default. It's also preserved between books, so if I turn it off in book A and then open book B, it will be off. The reader may find it confusing how to locate this setting.

  3. Great work. I like the quality of your products!

    I, too, am still chipping away at ye olde fixed layout possibilities. A great resource for me has been the Story Wheel app. They allow you to even email an ePub version of your story to yourself so that you can crack it open!

    Liz, do you think the Story Wheel ePubs would pass through to the iBookstore? I have not seen a published book that uses Javascript files instead of just putting the Javascript into the html like you did with the Barcelona book.

    Thanks for all the tips and tricks!
    Bill Burgess

  4. Great stuff Liz. Question, how long does it normally take for iTunes to get a fixed layout book up? I'm starting to get paranoid. I sub'd one almost 3 weeks ago, and it's still has a 'red' light, saying it needs to be reviewed for quality assurance.


  5. @Brendan. Mine (both fixed and fluid) have typically taken two weeks, though the last one was up the same afternoon! Course it was only a few pages. I've put out a call on Twitter to see what others' experiences have been. (Feel free to respond here in the comments as well.)

  6. Hi Liz,

    Thank you for all of the pioneering work that you have done in pushing the boundaries of epub iBooks capability. I bought your new Read Aloud mini-guide straight away, and thought I would try to "give back" in some way as you have been so giving with your knowledge.

    I spotted some very minor errors in your text which I thought you should know about.

    On page 6, paragraph 2 I think you are missing the word "with" - "I have figured out how to WITH any text editor".

    Also, points 3, 4, and 5 on pages 40-41 in your mini-guide should refer to ibooks:readaloud="start" instead of ibooks:readaloud="startstop".


  7. Thanks, John C. I appreciate you letting me know. I've updated the files to incorporate those corrections. I will email you the updated files (indeed I'll send them to anyone who bought the Read Aloud guide before Sept 2 at 1pm when I posted the updated file to the server).

  8. Liz, thank you for being the spearhead to all of this. I am seriously thinking that I will skip getting my children's picture book to a publisher and do it myself starting with an epub. This will take it much further than I expected. It's almost through the last revision from my editor and I it gives me an idea to have it translated into Chinese and read in English and maybe Chinese. Is there a way for readers to choose a language?

  9. First off, thank you so much for all your wonderful ePub guides. They're incredibly informative and very well-done.

    I was wondering whether you could provide an example of a Read Aloud book without the text highlighting feature. I'm trying to produce a simple Read Aloud ePub of a poem that would include the text of the poem along with audio of the poet reading it. The poem can fit on a single page, so there would only need to be one .m4a file and one .smil file. I've followed the directions in your Read Aloud mini guide, and, while I can get the poem to be fixed layout and even get the little speaker icon to show up, the audio does not play when I click "Start Reading". Perhaps I've not written the .smil file correctly because the code in your guide includes the tag to accommodate for the text highlighting, and maybe I don't need that or just need to use a different tag. Anyway, if you have any advice or can point me to a Read Aloud ePub without text highlighting, let me know. And thanks again for all the help you provide to fledgling ePub creators.

  10. @Shannon: You could quickly create such an example yourself by unzipping my example file and commenting out (or deleting) the bit in the CSS that adds the highlighting.

  11. Hello!
    Really, really great work!!! Thanks a lot.
    I still have one question though, or better a problem, the same problem Shannon seemed to have and I can not find an answer: I did everything the way, you described in your guide, but when I click the "Start reading" button, nothing happens. Only when I click on the first word of the text itself, the audio file and the reading starts.
    When I took your "BabysOwnAesop" book and removed all pages but the title page (so I could test the problem there), I had the same problem there as well.
    Do you have any idea, what the problem could be? Maybe just a hint in the right direction? That would be a great help!

    Many greetings from Germany,

  12. Hi Marcus: I think the problem is that there is only one page. Read this: http://www.pigsgourdsandwikis.com/2011/09/two-little-read-aloud-things.html

  13. Thanks a lot!

    One hint for other people from Germany and probably other countries as well: My (German speaking) Audacity will export the labels with "," as decimal point and not "." (since that is the correct writing in German).
    For example:

    2,810231 4,400702
    6,361885 10,009206

    The iPad won't understand these values properly, so one has to replace the "," here with a "."
    (It is easy to see it, if you know it, but it took me some time to find the problem because usually you overlook such things very easily)
    It's best to do this right after the export from Audacity and before you do all the RegEx magic to create the Smil file.

    Well, I just thought, maybe other users, who read this blog, could use that hint one day, as well.

    Bye and keep up the good work! :-)

  14. Excellent tip Marcus, thanks for the heads-up!

  15. Hi Liz,

    Thanks for the mini audio and video guide!
    Audio works great in iBooks.
    Any idea if it is possible to change the appearance of the audio control with CSS?


  16. Hi

    I've just read Your mini Guide (read aloud).
    How do You think, could it be possible (perhaps using JS) to separatelly control two audio files on two pages, of course control them by buttons.
    And one more thing... pause functionality, is it possible somehow?

    PS. I got JS script that controls two separate audio files on two pages, and gives pause funcionality. Combining these two funcionalities (highlighting text and full control ofer audio files) would be a great deal !


  17. Hello, has anyone figured out how to get audio files embedded into a fixed layout book to continue playing when you turn the pages.


    Does anyone know how to embed controls for the ambient soundtrack in fixed layout?

    1. Hi tmyke, did you manage to find a way to control ambient soundtrack via JS?


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