Some Points for the Future of the Poetry Ebook

Not all of the future possibilities of digital publishing are applicable to poetry. (This is speaking about the poetry book once finished, not about how that book could go through the process of publication. For more on the latter idea, see my post about a hypothetical model for a poetry publisher, wherein the publisher essentially works as an API for readers/consumers to create a poetry book based on their own criteria.) It is useful to trim down these speculative possibilities to look at how the ideal poetry ebook, with its particular requirements, might look (outside of present platforms or devices, although much would be possible within the EPUB3 spec.).

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EPUB3’s Media Overlays: Synchronised Narration

Continuing from my previous post, where I talked about how audio in ebooks was of special interest to poetry publishers, it is worth drawing some attention towards the incorporation of ‘media overlays’ in the epub3 specification, whereby narration can be synchronised with text:

A pre-recorded narration of a publication can be represented as a series of audio clips, each corresponding to part of the EPUB Content Document. A single audio clip, for example, typically represents a single phrase or paragraph, but infers no order relative to the other clips or to the text of a document. Media Overlays solve this problem of synchronization by tying the structured audio narration to its corresponding text (or other media) in the EPUB Content Document using SMIL markup.

iBooks has supported this since June; here’s a video of it in action.  Its primary commercial application has been children’s books, although I suspect IDPF were thinking more about accessibility. However, this could also be useful for incorporating readings by the poet (instead of with embedded audio), as narration doesn’t have to be linked word-for-word but perhaps by stanza, & so you can ‘read along’ (like in Faber/Touch Press’ Waste Land).

There are examples of media overlay code in the specification, but the epub3 Project page on has a sample epub3 file of Moby Dick (currently 9780316000000_MobyDick_r9.epub) which includes some linked audio files, if you want to have a look at this in practice.

This is one of the reasons why we should giving most of our attention to epub3.

HTML5, Kindle Format 8, & the Disappearing Multimedia Tags

There is something funny going on with KF8 and multimedia, which we are still waiting on the Publishing Guidelines for. Mobi 7 supports audio & video tags, albeit only for display on the Kindle for iPad and iPhone. Kindlegen includes, in its sample code, a ‘multimedia’ edition of Jabberwocky, with an embedded mp3 of a reading of the poem. This gives a clue as to why poetry ebook enthusiasts such as myself are interested in this: being able to incorporate recordings of readings is very attractive for poems, and is likely to be popular. This is why it is disappointing that KF8, with its heralded “HTML5 support“, has quietly dumped audio & video. It makes the declaration of HTML5 support somewhat odd, as there aren’t, after all, that many new elements in HTML5 other than multimedia. If Amazon, with the Kindle Fire & presumably more tablets in the future, intends on sticking with web standards for its books rather than moving towards apps, it needs to buck up a bit.

There is a good post on general KF8 frustration from Shoto Press’ blog, including the revelation that “Kindle Format 8 simply doesn’t exist yet”.

Edit: The Digital Reader has more on KF8, including confirmation that audio & video won’t be supported, and “there’s no indication of any plans to add them”.