June 16, 2014 Last Updated 11:00 am

The interactive eBook dilemma: embed video directly, or link out using HTML widgets

Books on Monday: each Monday TNM looks at books and book publishing – either a new book on the publishing industry, a new digital book release, or industry news

Digital publishers love the fact that they can use video content in their tablet editions, as the devices are perfect for viewing multimedia material. But video files can be large, and for complicated projects, including video directly in the project means longer download times, and more storage space eaten up in the tablet. Many negative reader reviews inside iTunes complain about the large files of some interactive magazines, for instance.

Most newspaper tablet editions that employ video are really RSS news apps, and so all the video content seen link out to the web. That means the problem of how to employ video is really an issue more for magazine and book publishers.


Our own Tablet Publishing magazine app (since pulled from the App Store) contained quite a number of videos inside the Guide to Digital Publishing Platform section. But the decision was made early on to link out to the videos in order to limit the file size as we used the Adobe DSP Single Edition solution which tends to produce a rather large file even without video content.

I was not thrilled with the solution if only because linking to video on the web obviously means the reader must have an Internet connection. That is something that will not be an issue in the future, one guesses, but still is in the era of expensive airport WiFi. Linking out also means that the reader is taken out of the app experience to a web browser.

Interactive eBooks, too, must deal with this problem. The African Queen, one of two eBooks discussed last week, is relatively small, and only contains a couple of videos. Using iBooks Author (iBA), the publishing team simply embedded the video using the Media widget. The solution is elegant because it not only automatically optimizes the video file, but allows the publisher to select the Poster Frame they want to use. There are also a few layout adjustments the designer can make.

Embedding video directly also plants a standard video icon on the file, informing readers that there is a video content to be viewed.

In contrast, The Mozart Project, last week’s Books on Monday feature (in two posts), opens with a long promotional video of over two minutes in length. This video is embedded directly in the app as the publisher wants it to be the first thing viewed when the reader opens the book up for the first time.

deadvideoThen, the first chapter of the book is a page that contains an instructional video to show readers how to navigate the interactive eBook and use all the features. It is in this video that the reader is informed that they will want to tap the triangles seen to view video. They are also warned here that the videos are WiFi only.

It wouldn’t be surprising that many readers, eager to dive right into The Mozart Project skip right over the instructional video, or don’t notice the WiFi warning. Even more, who only use their tablets at home during leisure time, will never notice that the videos require an Internet connection.

These are the only two directly embedded videos on the eBook, but combined with all the galleries, audio files, and animation, this produces a book that is 1.18 GB in size. All the other videos, and there are a good number of them, used HTML widgets to link out to the web for the content. Without an Internet connection, the video windows opens, but a video icon with a line through it.

There are two big advantages of using an HTML widget to link out to video: a reduction in file size, and also the ability to customize the look of the video.

Inside every widget created for displaying video are three files, two of which can be edited by the publisher to customize the reading experience.


The poster frame that the reader will see is the file named default.png. This graphic file can be replaced with an image the publisher wants, including a custom video player icon, like seen in the videos of The Mozart Project. Creating a video HTML video widget is easy enough as one can simply edited an existing one, or use a service such as Bookry or other widget makers to build that first video widget. (To view the contents of a widget one right-clicks the file and goes to Show Contents Package.)

The editable file is index.html file which can be opened using your favorite HTML editor – here I used Dreamweaver. What one sees is that the code is very simple and contains the iframe code one would find on YouTube. Need to create a new HTML widget, simply replace this video code with the new one from YouTube – but don’t forget to duplicate that widget before you modified the file!

The Mozart Project’s widgets are a bit more complicated than this as they did not post their videos onto YouTube as they wanted a somewhat better experience than this, but this concept of editable widgets and modifying poster frames via the default-png file works is applicable to any third party hosted video.

There is one other downside to HTML widgets for video: they must be seen in fullscreen. This is generally not a problem, but there are occasions where one might want to use video as part of a page design and the idea is to not leave the page for a fullscreen video.

Apple has warned publishers about using YouTube videos in their eBooks created using iBooks Author. A number of publishers have been told that they should directly embed their video rather than linking out. But most of these warnings were seen in the early days of iBA and one wonders if Apple now is thinking that any copyright issues that might arise is really the problem of the publisher and Google, not Apple. Obviously, if the publisher is using YouTube or Vimeo video they must either own the rights to that content or have the permission to use that video in their eBook.

The fair use doctrine may come into play in some cases, such as with the video found in The African Queen, but those are videos where the publisher has taken a clip from the film and inserted narration over the action. Simply linking to someone else’s video without their knowledge in order to provide the publisher with video content is dangerous (especially if the owner of the video decides to take the video down).

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