The dawning of the new KF8 • 21 October 2011 • The SnowBlog

The dawning of the new KF8

There's a vague but misleading Islamic reference in the title of this post. Please ignore that. 'KF8' is nothing to do with the establishment of a pan-Islamic state; it's the new e-book format Amazon are planning to adopt as a replacement for 'Mobi 7'. There's a marketing-y overview here. KF8 is based on some subset of HTML5/CSS3. Which is, as I hope you know, what the web uses too - at least the most modern bits of it. And it's similar to how EPUB works too. You kind of turn your book into a little website with lots of webpages (=chapters) and stylesheets and then you zip the whole thing up and call it an e-book. One thing I find interesting about this is that, if you think about it, e-books - both EPUB and now Kindle - have a lot more in common with your website than with your InDesign or QuarkXPress files. I mean, no wonder it's so difficult getting an EPUB book out of InDesign. InDesign uses carefully positioned frames for everything and only within those frames does it allow anything to reflow or move around a little - a very little. The first thing you do when using a DTP package like InDesign is to say exactly what size bits of paper you're about to typeset for. But the two main e-book formats are much more loosey-goosey, exactly like a webpage. When you don't know whether an e-book is going to be read on something tall and thin and tiny, with only six fonts (like a smartphone screen) or wide and huge (like a computer monitor) you need everything in the e-book to be good at moving itself around or reflowing onto the next page - and you'd like all that reconfiguring to work in a sensible way to retain readability and acceptable aesthetics. DTP software like InDesign isn't really designed to help with that. If we want our printed text to look good on two different sizes of paper then we typeset it twice and create two different output files. Given the era we live in, it would actually make more sense if a DTP application helped you to embed all sorts of sensible rules about reflowing and reconfiguring into your e-books - and then it let you lock down the paper size and create a print-ready output file if you wanted to. Going in the opposite direction - i.e. adding in intelligence to fixed-papersize files - is an uphill struggle. If I were Quark, I'd be rewriting QuarkXPress from the ground up along those lines because it would give me a chance to snatch back the DTP crown from InDesign. And if I were Adobe, I'd probably be too busy hitting myself in the face because of how bad InDesign's e-book export functionality is to get any new software written. So bad is InDesign's workflow when it comes to typesetting a paper book and then trying to export an EPUB based on that layout that I've started to wonder if one might be better off starting with (gasp!) a Word file or using a piece of software more geared for creating webpages than typesetting books as the starting point. At any rate, until the tools improve, e-books will continue to look amateurish on a regular basis and the DTP software market will contain to have a big hole in it which could swallow up either of the main players.


The SnowBlog is one of the oldest publishing blogs, started in 2003, and it's been through various content management systems over the years. A 2005 techno-blunder meant we lost the early years, but the archives you're reading now go all the way back to 2005.

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