Hachette Livre’s Luc Audrain on the Practicality of EPUB3

In Digital by Olivia Snaije

“We are ready to build with it, but not all retailers are ready.”

By Olivia Snaije

"There is a bit of tension," surrounding the use of ePUB3, admits Luc Audrain.

PARIS: Luc Audrain is a member of a small club of highly specialized engineers working at major publishing houses who are helping publishing teams move into a digital world. As head of digitalization support at Hachette Livre, Audrain navigates between the future, researching digital publishing technology, and the present, with all the knots and kinks that come with this new domain.

Audrain will be at the Frankfurt book fair this year leading a workshop with the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) technical officer, Markus Gylling, focusing on creating rich and enhanced content with HTML5 and ePUB 3 and the benefits of this new standard that goes well beyond e-books.

Hachette, which in France alone has 70 brands with books that are content to layout driven, is an active member of the IDPF — Hachette USA and UK are involved as well — and Audrain is committed to finding standards in production so that the final e-book products will work on any e-reader. “It is a myth to think that we will produce one book and one file to produce on any device but you have to start somewhere and we will try to narrow down the formats.”

Accordingly, the IDPF launched ePUB3 in Frankfurt last year, and while there was much excitement about the new standard, e-books via ePUB3 are slow in coming. “We are ready to build with it, but not all retailers are ready, said Audrain.

A handsomely designed Fixed Layout book on cocktails produced by Hachette imprint Larousse, Cocktails avec et sans alcool, for example, is only available on Apple for the moment.

As much as tech experts in publishing can talk about how ePUB3 will make a radical difference in the possibilities authors and publishers can offer to their readers, until all sectors of the industry catch up to the technology, there will be a period of slippage.

“There is a bit of tension this fall,” admits Audrain. This lag can be due to a combination of things, he said, from changing the mentality of publishers, to the fierce competition between reading devices.

Patience and teaching skills are essential tools for Audrain, who specializes in XML and has been at the heart of what he calls “this niche” since 1998. He sees the market in France growing slowly but steadily. “For years I’ve been telling publishers that in order to build e-books we need information or content that is re-usable. Many editors and publishers are still thinking about paper books and don’t think about the fact that they are producing content that can be scalable and used on other devices.”

Hachette’s strategy is clear, says Audrain. “We subscribe to IDPF and contribute to the working group. We contribue to the Readium Project and provide samples to it as well.”

The Readium Project focuses on making sure open source software for handling ePUB 3 publications is readily available, as well as helping to accelerate adoption of ePUB 3 as a global digital publishing format.

In the meantime, Audrain is involved in working on Metadata quality within Hachette and travels to meet his counterparts at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the LBF in London or at the BISG in New York. He also teaches digital publishing tools and techniques at a French University and explains (very patiently) digital publishing to editors at various publishing houses.

Luc Audrain will be leading the workshop “HTML 5 and EPUB3: Digital Books Beyond Digitized Text” at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Thursday, October 11. 2:30 – 5:30 Hall 4.C, Room “Entente.” The program will be conducted in English. The price of €250 includes lunch.

DISCUSS: Explore HTML 5 and EPUB3 at the Frankfurt Book Fair

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.