Luc Audrain works with Hachette Livre, and is in charge of digital and accessibility standards. We spoke with him on the challenges faced in the transition from EPUB 2.0 to 3.0, the support from the French Ministry of Culture and French Publishers Association that is driving change toward born accessible book publishing, and also the market potential for making books more inclusive from the time of publication.
How did you get involved in accessibility matters?
In the French Publisher Association, I brought technical help starting in 2011 for all discussions with visually impaired associations and the government regarding the French law for ebooks accessibility.
Hachette Livre won the ABC award in 2018, what was that for?
Hachette Livre was commended by the selection jury for its implementation of “born accessible” production processes in the EPUB3 format and for its implementation of mandatory accessibility conformance testing for all of its trade publications through the use of the recently created “Accessibility Checker for EPUB” known as Ace. When its accessibility features are used correctly, EPUB3 is the gold standard in the publishing industry for the production of accessible digital books. (Read more about it here.)
What were the challenges of moving Hachette Livre from EPUB 2.0 to 3.0?
The first challenge was distribution as we had to wait until 2015 for all distributors and resellers to accept EPUB3 files. The second challenge was production as we had to make all our suppliers switch to EPUB3 for simple, novel-type, books.
What were there implications of that shift to Hachette’s publishing workflow?
I had to revise the former RFP which was asking for EPUB2. I pushed a draft end of 2015 to all suppliers with a call for comments. Then, after several calls, and some amendments, I made the new Hachette EPUB3 specification official at the beginning of 2016, with the “threat” that we would stop accepting EPUB2 files in a near future.
Will the rest of Hachette be following this change to be born accessible publish?
This 2016 RFP was for all Hachette Livre imprints in France, and also for all our third party publishers. They could still produce EPUB2 file for some time, but when they switch to EPUB3, they should follow our specifications.
I know our colleagues from US (Hachette Book Group) and UK (Hachette Livre UK) are producing EPUB3 files.
The Publishers Association in France has been promoting the need to address accessibility for some time. Could you describe how that has come about and what were the drivers?
In September 2016, I proposed the a11y subject to the working group Normes&Standards. And the group agreed. We already had a year (2012-2013) on “the standards inside EPUB3”, so it was a supplemental approach specifically focused on a11y standards, particularly using (and translating in French) the “EPUB Accessibility Techniques 1.0” document issued by DAISY Consortium/IDPF on January 5th 2017.
So the drivers were the need for our expert groups to master the knowledge of what has to be done inside EPUB files to make then born accessible.
The Ministry of Culture is actively involved in developing a whole of supply chain approach. Could you describe how that has come about? How and why is it a government priority in France?
Historically, the French Ministry of Culture has been driving the law in France on eBook accessibility issues for the general public. On the opposite side, the digital education issues are out of their scope and considered belonging to the French Education Ministry.
The French Ministry of Culture within its department called SLL (Service du Livre et de la Lecture : Book and Reading department) had to drive the process of a11y laws for trade books. The SLL had to steer the discussions with all the stakeholders (publishers, authors, visually impaired people associations, social and handicap ministries) to build the French law that defines a copyright exception. Agreed associations have the right to ask and receive for free the publishers files that were used for the print books, so they can adapt them to appropriate accessible files (DAISY files mainly).
The mandatory deposit from publishers is done through the French National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, BNF) in a dedicated platform called Platon.
Globally this process has been driven from a global handicap initiative in France in 2006, called Handicap Law that was pushed by President Chirac at that time. It took several years for the application, which is why I worked on it with SNE in 2011 and after, when it was revised in 2015.
You have spoken before about the market potential of investing in accessibility, could you articulate what you see that potential to be?
Visually impaired people don’t buy paper book as they can’t read them. They already know from digital accessibility from Web and smartphone usages. But for books, they rely on the work from association where volunteers ask for publishers files and after getting them, do the transformation into dedicated formats for their members. Very few books are so produced. And always with effort and delay : they call that the “book famine”.
Born accessible publishing is the end of the book famine : as soon as they hear from a book on radio, blind people can lend or buy them for their favorite device/application. It is also inclusive : the VIP association in France tells me they would prefer inclusion than exception.
The benefit of born accessible publishing is to bring a new market for the visual impaired community who are asking for inclusion : more than any other population, they will lend/buy born accessible books.