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The History and Future of Audiobooks

Space Gray Iphone 6 and Red On-ear HeadphonesThis article was kindly submitted by Wendy Reid, Senior QA at Rakuten Kobo Inc and one of the co-chairs of the Publishing Working Group of the W3C. She is the editor of the audiobooks profile of Web Publications, the focus of this blog piece. Wendy recently presented on the new audiobook standard at the DPUB Summit in Paris.

When Thomas Edison recorded the first audiobook in 1877, he probably didn’t think of them as anything other than a way to sell more phonographs. In the 1930’s, when the Library of Congress and the AFB developed a program for talking books, audiobooks got their real start and reputation as a medium for reading accessibility. The talking books program was created to provide reading materials for wounded war veterans and people with visual disabilities, and the model would be recreated in other countries in the years that followed.

My first exposure to the world of audiobooks came in grade 10. My English teacher, a man well known for his coke-bottle glasses and sweater vests, popped a cassette tape into a player on his desk and played us a recording of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It was pretty good, certainly more interesting than reading the worn copy in my backpack or listening to my classmates stumble over Shakespeare’s peculiar use of English. However, it was a cassette in a time when I carried an iPod around in my school bag and feverishly downloaded MP3s from torrent sites. Audiobooks, though better than reading my school books, seemed antiquated. When I picked up an audiobook again at a summer data entry job, it was on a CD. I later discovered I could torrent them off music sites too, but my tiny 8gb iPhone 4s couldn’t handle more than one at a time, and I always seemed to lose track of my place.

Little did I know then that in a few years I would be working on audiobooks on the other side of the table. Instead of torrenting them I’d be working on an app to purchase, download, and listen to them all on my iPhone 6s. I would spend 6 months of my life listening almost exclusively to audiobooks, some I enjoyed, some I hated, many in languages I didn’t understand, all for the purpose of releasing a product. A product I inevitably use almost every week..

Last year the Publishing Working Group  at W3C started work on audiobooks. It had become apparent to us that there was a strong business need for standardization in the industry, especially as it was seeing a newfound popularity.

It would shock many people to know that audiobooks are produced without any sort of unifying specification at all.

Today, if a publisher wants to produce a new audiobook, they are responsible for a few things: they have to produce the audio files, cover, a track list, and any supplemental content that they want to include with the book (this can be things like graphs or photos). Once they have done that, they often send their files to either distributors or direct to retail. Each of those entities may or may not have a preferred “standard” they expect, and this can be very different depending on the requirements.

This fragmentation means that end users, depending on the platform they use (and they are almost always siloed to one), can get many different experiences.

Those reading platforms also have to factor in for a lot of data challenges, things like incorrect chapter lengths, missing track data, a missing or incorrect table of contents.

The Publishing Working Group looked at all of these problems, as well as use cases that we thought were underserved by the current implementation of audiobooks—specifically accessibility. Our specification, now a public working draft, addresses our four main classes of use case:

  • Listening—a user should be able to listen to their content without input or interruption
  • Portability—a user should be able to download, steam, or offline their content
  • Navigation—a user should be able to know when and where they are in their audiobook
  • Accessibility—regardless of ability, a user should able to enjoy their content

Listening

Our specification makes the possibility of seamless listening possible via the reading order section of the manifest. This provides instruction to reading systems or the web that as long as no other input is present, this is the order the content should be presented it. It does not preclude fast forwarding or rewinding, but if a user chooses to not interact with the listening medium, they get their content in order.

Portability

The audiobooks specification is designed for the web first, meaning that streaming was a major use case, but we also recognized the need for an offline distribution model where content could be downloaded and transported in a single piece. For that we have developed a packaging specification that addresses this problem. It means that content creators can bundle their content together into a single file, and users can download that file and enjoy their content wherever they choose to open it.

Navigation

The audiobooks specification has a specific provision for the Table of Contents. We allow content creators to create an HTML document for the table of contents which means they can create a rich document with the necessary structure of the book, and audio platforms can use it for display and information. That data can be used to help the user understand where they are in their audiobook at any time.

Accessibility

Audiobooks are often considered accessible by default—talking books were designed for the blind after all. However, print disabilities is a bigger classification than this and we needed to address all of the possible users for the specification. For that reason, the Audiobooks specification will be using the Synchronized Media specification to provide a method for content creators to sync audio and textual content for optimal experience. The specification also allows content creators to reference accessibility metadata within the manifest (on top of any ONIX they may use) to allow users to understand exactly what content they are receiving and if it meets their needs.

The audiobooks specification is moving towards recommendation status with the W3C, at this point in our process we are looking for feedback and implementation, so please reach out to us on our GitHub at https://github.com/w3c/wpub or to the editor at wendy.reid@rakuten.com (you can also reach me on twitter @wendy_a_reid if you are really keen).

Global Specifications for Accessible Publications

EPUB logoAccessible books were originally produced by organizations working for people with disabilities who are, of course, the accessibility experts. Publishers are now expected to produce accessible publications but they are not accessibility experts like the organizations working for people with disabilities.

They need accessibility specifications and guidelines to conform to and to refer to for guidance. At the same time, it is important to verify the accessibility claims of publishers, and this can only be done if there is a common accessibility specification.

We know that for efficient implementation of accessibility in publications we also need tools for checking accessibility and tools for accessible production throughout the supply chain. These tools need a common accessibility specification to which they can all conform to—what we don’t want is one tool that highlights one accessibility issue and other tools which highlight another.

We Need One Accessibility Specification that can be Adopted Worldwide.

Let us look at an example. Different countries in the world have different standards for electricity: the US has two strips 110V, Europe has two pin 220V, the UK has something different again,  and countries in Asia also have different standards. International travellers are used to the annoyance of making their appliances work with different electricity standards. It would have been so simple if we had one electric standard which was accepted around the world.

We should learn from this and we prevent any fragmentation of our accessibility standards for publications.

The digital publications market is borderless so it is much more easy to sell digital publications in different countries. EU publishers supply ebooks to different parts of the world and publications from other continents also supply their ebooks to Europe.If we have different accessibility standards, we would create a enormous amount of confusion for publishers, who are already struggling with different file formats for different ereaders. Imagine if they have to be congisant of different accessibility standards also?

Man scratching his head in confusion at a computer screen

The different areas of the publishing supply chain all need a point of reference for ensuring accessibility. What if a publisher produces accessible publication but:

  • the aggregator does not support accessibility
  • the retailer does not expose accessibility metadata and does not provide accessible user interface
  • the reading system does not support accessibility

If any link of this supply chain is not able to support accessibility, the person with disability will not be able to read the publication. Each and every element of the supply chain needs to conform to the same accessibility requirements.

Furthermore, this would result in a suboptimal reading experience for people with disabilities. People with disabilities especially senior citizens need additional guidance for using new technology like touch screen, smart phones etc., how can we expect them to make sure that their ereaders conform to different accessibility standards?

Image of man using an ereader to access content.

It is very important to have one international standard that provides a set of common requirements for conformance and highlighting violations.

Is there an Existing Standard that can be Adopted?

The good news is that there is an accessibility standard for publications which was created in 2017. The EPUB Accessibility Conformance and Discovery specifications:

  • Build on WCAG
  • Add publishing specific requirements and accessibility metadata requirements.
  • Designed at abstract level so that it can be used for publications in the format other than EPUB also.
  • Originally developed by International Digital Publishing Forum
  • Maintained by World Wide Web Consortium
  • Progressing towards becoming ISO Standard.

Are there Tools Available to Ensure Conformance to the EPUB Accessibility Standard?

Having a specification is great, but to ensure its implementation on the ground, we need conformance tools. It is impossible to imagine the implementation of accessibility throughout the supply chain without these tools:

  • Ace by DAISY (Accessibility Checker for EPUB)
  • DAISY Ace SMART (Simple Manual Accessibility Reporting Tool)
  • Ace plugin for Sigil
  • Ace at the backend of Born Accessible Checker

Are Big Publishers Using the EPUB Accessibility Conformance and Discovery Specifications?

Many publishers are either using the specification or in the process of up grading their workflows for implementing the specification. To name but a few: Pearson, U.S., Hachette Livre, France, Wiley, U.S., Macmillan Learning, U.S., Fondazione LIA, Italy, National library of Korea, Korea, Réseau Canopé, France, Kogan Page, U.K.

In conclusion:we have a international accessibility specification for ebooks, we have tools that conform to it, and we already have big publishers adopting the standard. We are in the beginning of a revolution.

We have a life time opportunity to achieve the era of born accessible publications.

This article was submitted by Avneesh Singh, COO of The DAISY Consortium and newly appointed board member of the W3C Advisory Board. It is based on a presentation given at the 2019 DPUB Summit in Paris.

Avneesh Singh Elected to W3C Advisory Board

Many congratulations to Avneesh Singh, Chief Operating Officer at the DAISY Consortium, who has been elected to the W3C Advisory Board alongside other esteemed candidates as reported in W3C’s announcement today.

The W3C Advisory Board  “provides ongoing guidance on issues of strategy, management, legal matters, process, and conflict resolution” within the W3C. DAISY is delighted that the board now have the benefit of Avneesh’s experience and expertise. His submission blog piece describes in full why he will be such an asset to this outstanding group of industry leaders.

 

EPUB 3.2—Back to the Future of the Web.

Head shot of Matt Garrish, author of this articleIn case you missed the news, EPUB 3.2 is now officially a thing. Does that leave you thinking, “Oh joy, yet another format I have to produce!” If so, don’t worry, you’ll be happy to hear that you’re most likely already producing fully conformant EPUB 3.2 content. The “.2” doesn’t designate a brand new flavour of EPUB, only that we’ve made updates to the EPUB 3 specifications to improve and enhance what you’re already producing.

EPUB 3.2 really isn’t even all that radical a makeover of EPUB 3, despite its designation as a major revision. There are some major changes, of course, but these changes reflect a more subtle rethink of the relationship between EPUB and the Web. You’ve probably heard EPUB billed as “a web site in a box”, but due to a few technical divergences, the practicality of that statement has always had a few asterisks appended to it. (If you’ve tried to create rich, cutting-edge content, you’re probably all too familiar with those asterisks.) What I hope to do in this article is recap how 3.2 brings EPUB back closer to the living Web, and in the process opens up a more complete world of support for rich media, accessibility and all the other great features of the Open Web Platform.

To (dot) Infinity and Beyond

A common complaint about EPUB 3 is that it took a point-in-time approach to integrating HTML support. The HTML language keeps moving forward with new features and improvements, meanwhile poor old EPUB 3 was locked into the first version of HTML 5.0. You could probably secretly test new functionality in reading systems by side-loading your books, but try and get your content through vendors’ front doors and that pesky EPUBCheck validator would catch you out.

There are very good reasons why EPUB took the approach to HTML5 that it did – think stability in a time of Web standards upheaval around 2010 – but those concerns have faded. EPUB 3.2 moves the standard back in line with the Web’s evolving nature. From now on, as soon as new versions of HTML get standardized, their features become legitimate to use in EPUB 3. You’ll still have to wait on vendors updating their versions of EPUBCheck, of course, but the specification will no longer be the barrier to progression.

Why that’s so important is that it means less frustration in terms of deploying new developments in accessibility, rich media, etc.: updates and improvements to ARIA will be available as soon as they are incorporated in HTML; no more waiting on the details element for including descriptions in an unobtrusive way; the picture element is now available to provide responsive images.

Perhaps the more succinctly stated point here is that EPUB 3.2 retrenches the standard to focus on what makes EPUB “EPUB”, and steps back from regulating dot versions of its content formats.

The threat to existing EPUB 3 content with this change is low, too, as any features removed from Open Web technologies since HTML 5.0 weren’t supported well, anyway. And that’s also a nice segue into another major change in 3.2 to better align EPUB with the Web.

Thinning the Herd

When faced with missing features or functionality, the temptation is often to forge ahead and create what you need yourself. Sometimes this approach is the right one, and other times it ends up making things worse. EPUB’s history of adding new features has been chequered, especially when it comes to features the Web doesn’t support.

Did you know that you could dynamically switch content based on what the reading system supports, or create audio and video players without JavaScript? Probably not, as despite the existence of these features there’s not been a lot in the way of support in reading systems over the years.

The ideas behind the features were sound enough, but by diverging from the Web, it made it so that the very Web content that EPUB prides itself on won’t always work as expected on the Web. Unless you’re only making EPUBs out of your books, what good are features that only work in EPUB?

The answer to that rhetorical question, of course, is none, which is why a number of these features have been dropped in EPUB 3.2. With the folding of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) into the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the goal moving forward is to work with the relevant Web standard groups to develop any needed missing functionality so that EPUB doesn’t branch away from the Web again. No more going it alone.

 

And that’s the high-level tour through the most important changes made in EPUB 3.2.

There was a lot more to the revision, naturally, including a major shake-up in the organization of the specifications to try and make information easier to find. If you want the nitty gritty details (corrections, clarifications, etc.), the EPUB 3.2 Changes document is where you’ll want to go next. But hopefully this has helped provide some perspective on the objectives of the latest revision.

This update was kindly submitted by Matt Garrish, Digital Publishing Technologist and Standards Editor. Matt is  General Editor of the EPUB 3 standard and related specifications as well as the author of a number of books on EPUB and Accessibility, published by O’Reilly and developer for the DAISY Consortium.

Rachel Comerford—The Trailblazer Behind Macmillan Learning’s Accessibility Efforts

sketch of rachel comerfordRachel Comerford, Senior Director of Content Standards and Accessibility at Macmillan Learning and co-chair of the W3C EPUB Community Group, has been instrumental in the company’s huge success with accessible publishing. Macmillan Learning are the first company to gain accreditation via the Benetech Global Certified Accessible program. This is no easy feat and Macmillan have worked closely with Benetech and other accessibility organizations to ensure that their products are indeed “Born Accessible”.

Image credit: Iris Febres

Rachel has given us this insight into what drives her passion for accessibility:

When I was eleven years old, my technology teacher told me that “girls don’t build bridges.” That same year, my toothpick bridge design broke the school record for carrying the most weight. Inclusivity is one of my core guiding principles; it drives both how I work and how I think about my work. No student should get the message that they can’t pursue their field of interest, not because of gender, disability, or any other label.

It’s with this kind of inclusiveness in mind that, Macmillan Learning’s ebooks have achieved Global Certified Accessible status from Benetech. This is a milestone on a long road, one that started when we realized that the PDF format we’d long used was a barrier to accessibility. We moved to EPUB 3, which was designed from the start for accessibility, with adaptable text and structured navigation that made it easier for all users. And, since EPUB is an open and evolving standard, Macmillan is now participating in its future development.

Moving to accessible EPUB 3 required significant changes in our workflows and how we develop content. But Macmillan Learning has a dedicated and enthusiastic production and design team who met this challenge head on. We looked at every element of our ebooks with the help of our content and standards teams, and documented the best accessible practices in an internal implementation guide. We worked closely with our composition partner on training to these standards, and subsequently went through several rounds of feedback with Benetech, who reviewed both the standards and the ebooks that resulted from those standards.

I’m proud to be at Macmillan Learning, where my passion for accessibility is not just encouraged, but acted on. We are not finished! We will continue to make it easier for students of all abilities to pursue their dreams.

In order to gain acreditation Macmillan have been through a thorough and rigorous process:

To become Global Certified Accessible, Benetech evaluated Macmillan Learning’s workflow for creating accessible books, as well as many samples of content across the disciplines they publish in, and certified conformance to the accessible EPUB creation guidelines, which are based on WCAG 2.0 AA+ standards put in place by the international standards organizations and the publishing community. Using a collaborative process, Benetech evaluated and provided feedback on more than a hundred accessibility features. The certification applies to all books created using Macmillan Learning’s updated process, which includes all ebooks with a 2019 copyright.

Read the full press release from Macmillan Learning here and join us in offering Rachel and her team our heartfelt congratulations.

Avneesh Singh For W3C Advisory Board

Avneesh Singh, Chief Operating Officer (Strategy and Operations) at the DAISY Consortium, is standing for election to the W3C Advisory Board which “provides ongoing guidance on issues of strategy, management, legal matters, process, and conflict resolution” within the W3C.

Avneesh will bring a unique perspective to the AB:

  • I will bring my knowledge of strategy, governance and experience of managing the DAISY Consortium to the development of structure and the governance model of W3C.

  • Equally important is work towards diversity and inclusion. I am committed to work to ensuring that our worldwide consortium creates worldwide standards with worldwide participation that includes appropriate representation of people from developing countries and people with disabilities.

  • Another important priority is the reinforcement of accessibility and the work towards ensuring that accessibility is embedded in all standards from their inception stage to final Recommendations.

We wish him every success with the nomination and election process. Voting takes place throughout May with results being announced on June 4, 2019. For more details you can access Avneesh’s submission blog piece here. Avneesh welcomes any contact regarding this nomination.

TPAC 2019

September 16th to 20th, 2019

The W3C Technical Plenary and Advisory Committee Meetings (TPAC) brings together W3C technical groups, the Advisory Board, the TAG and the Advisory Committee for an exciting week of coordinated work, including sessions from the Publishing Working Groups

To be eligible to register and attend, you must be one of the following:

  • a participant in a W3C Working, Interest, Business or Community Group scheduled to meet at TPAC
  • a W3C Member Advisory Committee Representative
  • a participant on either the Advisory Board or the TAG
  • an employee of a W3C member organization
  • an invited Guest
  • a W3C Evangelist
  • W3C staff or W3C Office staff

Date

September 16-20, 2019

Venue

Japan

Learn More

Details are available via the W3C TPAC website.

Inspiring Words from Industry Leaders: Interview with Tzviya Siegman, Wiley

Head shot of Tzviya Siegman who is the subject of this interviewInclusive Publishing is continuing with its popular series of interviews with industry leaders and their approach to accessibility. Our first interview of 2019 is with Tzviya Siegman, Information Standards Lead at Wiley and a member of the World Wide Web Consortium Advisory Board. Tzviya is passionate about accessibility and has inspired many industry colleagues to embrace the accessibility opportunities offered by digital publishing.

I have learned so much about the way that tools, systems, browsers, and reading systems work from my work on accessibility….it will help you become a better developer.

Why is inclusive publishing important to you and/or your organization?

We serve a variety of customer from students to research to corporate consumers. It is widely established that students require and deserve accessible materials. Wiley believes that our customers are life-long learners. Life-long learners need access to all materials

Do you have a top tip for others new to accessibility?

Start with the tools at W3C’s WAI website (https://www.w3.org/WAI/). Even after being involved in accessibility for years, I go back to these resources again and again. They start off simply and walk a beginner through the basics clearly.

What do you wish you knew about accessibility 10 years ago?

I wish I had a better understanding of “native” accessibility and the way that assistive technology works. Understanding the interactions of the Accessibility Tree and the DOM changed my approach to accessibility and design. There are a few articles and documents that can really help. Melanie Richards’ Semantics to Screen Reader (https://alistapart.com/article/semantics-to-screen-readers) explains this relationship really clearly.

·What do you think will be the biggest game changer for inclusive publishing in the next few years?

There are so many things in progress that it is hard to choose just one. There is a lot of work happening in the world of SVG that could have a huge impact on accessibility. SVG can be made accessibly, and as it is becoming a more widely used and accepted format. I have heard rumors about the Canadian government offering funding incentives to Canadian-owned publishers who publish accessibly. That would make a real difference.

For those still on the fence, why should they consider accessibility?

Accessible content and platform provides a better user experience for all users. Further, most users experience some form of disability at some point in their lives, whether it is situational (e.g. power loss requires navigating without sight), temporary (e.g. a broken arm requires hands-free navigation), or due to age (e.g. low-vision). Considering all users is usually good for business.

How have good inclusive publishing practices influenced the majority of your readers?

Writing image descriptions forces us to think about what an image truly conveys. If an image is too complicated to describe well, maybe it is also too complicated for a sighted reader to understand and it needs to go back to the author for improvement?

Can you sum up your attitude towards inclusive publishing in one sentence.

Inclusive publishing improves your content and makes it more available and useful to all users.

Do you have any final thoughts on accessibility or inclusive publishing practices you would like to share?

It might seem like a lot of work to make your content accessible, but I have learned so much about the way that tools, systems, browsers, and reading systems work from my work on accessibility. It is a lot of work, but it is also interesting work that will take you down a very interesting path and ultimately help your users. You will learn so much along the way, and it will help you become a better developer.

W3C’s Judy Brewer: SIGACCESS Award for Outstanding Contribution 2018

Head shot of Judy Brewer, subject of this post

On 25 July it was announced that Judy Brewer is the recipient of the 2018 SIGACCESS Award for her Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility. Judy Brewer is the Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), where she works with an expert team of accessibility specialists, and a broad and vibrant web accessibility community.

As part of the award, Judy has been invited to present a keynote talk at the ASSETS Conference on October 22nd. 

This new piece is from the W3C website. Our congratulations to Judy and her team on this well deserved award.

W3C Workshop on Digital Publication Layout and Presentation

September 18th to 19th, 2018

The W3C have announced the latest in a series of workshops exploring the capabilities needed to ensure that the web delivers on its full potential as a universal platform for digital publishing.

This technical workshop will focus on evaluating the current status and exploring future directions of visually-rich long-form digital publications based on Web Technologies (particularly CSS, the formatting language of the Web), encompassing both fixed and dynamic layouts. Such “high-design” publications, with complex or sophisticated layout, may be sequential art (Comics, Manga, Bandes-Dessinées, etc.), magazines, picture books, cookbooks, educational materials, etc.

Date

September 18-19, 2018

Venue

Tokyo, Japan

Learn More

Further details and how you can participate in this event can be found at the event listing on the W3C website here