eBook Platform Accessibility

I have commented, negatively, on the accessibility of supposed academic eBook platforms before, so it is a welcome relief to read the JISC post today – Accessible ebook platforms – seven honest dealers (and a few non responders) – whose findings support my claims – until recently many of them were not accessible, or even should be called ‘eBooks’.

My complaint is, and has been (and may continue to be), that they are not eBooks in the sense of an ePub or MOBI file, i.e. scalable, accessible, etc. Academic eBooks are files, often PDFs, loaded to a proprietary piece of software that controls access, printing, searching, etc. In this software you can view the whole book page inside their ‘skin’ which enables searches, thumbnails, chapter links, etc. When viewed on a desktop this is clunky, at best, but workable. 

However, look at this on a tablet, and it’s tough if not impossible to read the text. You have to zoom in on the text before it’s legible, and then you have to scroll left-right to read the page, and then up-down to progress through the text. If you want to turn the page … zoom out and then click next to turn the page.

This is an awful user experience. Anyone who’s used an eBook device (Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, etc. ) knows how easy an eBook is to read, even on an iPad or other tablet. The above is not acceptable.

I understand that, to provide a ‘true’ eBook experience, like you would get from an ePub or MOBI scalable file on an eReader or in an eReader software, would mean (probably) making the file itself available. I’m guessing the publishers aren’t doing this as they would see this as ‘releasing’ the book in to the wild and losing control of the rights and future sales? Some might argue that’s not such a bad thing?

My beef is (a) don’t call it an eBook, it isn’t – in the purest sense of the term, and (b) make it easier to be truly mobile by checking, if not designing, for the lowest-common-denominator of screen sizes and make it accessible and scalable.

The conclusions in the JISC post makes for painful reading – there are positives from the seven companies who responded to their questions, but the are also some painful negatives that surely we should have sorted out by now? I’m certain there is a way to do this so everyone is happy (author, publisher, student, academic) … I just don’t see why it’s taking so long?

Image source: James Clay (CC BY-NC 2.0)