Dave Ream on E-book Indexes
By Carol Reed
The first portion of our fall meeting featured Dave Ream, principal consultant for Leverage Technologies. Dave addressed a number of issues surrounding e-book indexes: where the e-book market is headed, how e-book indexes currently function, how they might ideally function in the future, and how indexers are getting involved in EPUB standards development.
It’s no news that the e-book market is expanding rapidly. 2010 saw e-books holding 6.4% of the total Trade market and 13.6% of the Adult Fiction market, numbers that continue to grow steadily. Amazon’s Kindle e-book sales have surpassed both their hardcover and paperback sales. E-books won’t become a medium of choice for nonfiction until technology overcomes some current obstacles, such as difficulty displaying graphs and tables, and the inability to highlight text.
In some ways, the print market is actually benefitting from e-book sales. App books for mobile devices are gaining momentum while often boosting sales of their corresponding print editions. The majority of undergraduate textbook users (58%) still prefer print books for usability, and 41% want a print-on-demand version available when they purchase the e-book version. While it’s clear that e-books will continue to grow, many basic usability issues still need to be ironed out.
Current e-book indexes are usually inadequate, if they’re included at all. Those with static page number references are essentially useless, since the e-book format doesn’t follow the print version’s pagination (or if it does, the user has to scroll manually to find the desired page). In linked indexes, entries often link to general sections, rather than a specific paragraph, so you might or might not see the target text on your screen. Formatting problems can happen during conversion, making a marginally useful index utterly incomprehensible. Navigation aids are also lacking, so moving to and from the index is cumbersome and frustrating.
Looking at current e-book indexes, you might be tempted to conclude that e-book publishers and consumers are satisfied with basic search and that indexes are not a priority. While this is a concern, an increasing number of publishers recognize the contribution indexes can make to a good e–book, and some exciting developments are taking place.
Members of ASI’s Digital Trends Task Force (DTTF) are actively engaging publishers and developers in conversations about e-book indexes, with a positive response from the industry. Dave has worked with Jan Wright in developing a prototype e-book index that is integrated with search. The prototype, which Jan will present at industry conferences in 2012, features three different modes:
In order for any of this to happen, the standards governing the programming end of e-book production need to be built to allow such features. Dave and Jan are working with the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) to develop EPUB 3.0—one of the standards that govern digital production—so publishers and programmers will have the tools they need to provide enhanced index functionality.
What might all of this mean for indexers in the future? Some of the best practices for indexing e-books will certainly differ from best practices for indexing print books. For instance, while five locators might be acceptable for one entry in a print index, it’s far too many when you’re following links. E-book indexes will work better with greater specificity, so singlelocator entries and more subheadings are appropriate. Small screen sizes will also dictate formatting, heading length, and number of subheadings to some extent.
If you’re interested in indexing e-books, Dave recommends becoming familiar with XML tagging. EPUB 3.0 uses a system different from XML, but XML provides a good foundation. Also be sure to check out the resources below.
More Resources on E-book Indexing
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