You’ve decided to turn your book into an ebook and are all ready to go. Only now you realize there is more than one type of ebook to choose from.
Although we know you’re dying to get started, it’s worth a pause and some consideration. Different books are suited to different types of ebook. Making the wrong choice can lead to some unnecessary frustration for your readers, and that’s the last thing you want.
Let us show you the differences between the main ebook formats. That way, you can rest easy knowing that you’re choosing the right one for your book.
The clue is in the name with this one. Reflowable ebook content is designed to flow from page to page on any device’s screen, perfectly fitting its size. The reader of a reflowable ebook can then adjust settings like the font size, line spacing, margins, and style. Whatever changes you make, the content adapts and reflows to fit.
This flexibility means the same book could look very different for different people. On one person’s device, it could fill 500 pages, and on another, only 100.
The principal format of reflowable ebook is epub. It is used by all major retailers although Amazon will generate their own proprietary format from the epub file. You can generate these files by taking your print book PDF and converting it to HTML and CSS. Think of it a bit like a web page. But if you want to have your ebook properly styled, with carefully handled images, multi-level headings, bulleted lists, links, and captions, then you need someone with sufficient technical knowledge to manipulate the file properly.
Reflowable ebooks have been around for a few years now, and technical standards are changing all the time. At present, however, that still means some limitations. Reflowable ebooks still don’t support complex design features like columns or fixed-position content. We can’t yet wrap text around images or lock things in place. And most Kindle devices don’t show color or fancy embedded fonts.
This means that reflowable ebooks can’t yet rival the typography and typesetting quality of a printed book. As standards improve, however, so does our control over text and images. Every time a new device is released, the level of sophistication and style grows.
And, despite these styling drawbacks, it’s important to remember that reflowable ebooks are still by far the most popular type of ebook for good reason. They offer enormous freedom of control to the reader. The files are also small, so customers find them easier, quicker, and cheaper to download and store.
Authors pick reflowable ebooks for a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books, and you can sell them via all ebook retailers. For text-only books or those with standard in-line images, conversion is typically very affordable, so that’s good news. Complex books, however, can be more expensive for you to convert. They’ll need many more modifications to make them suitable for the reflowable format.
Fixed layout ebooks
Fixed layout ebooks, in contrast, keep everything fixed still and unchanging from device to device. They are essential when you want your ebook to have exactly the same look and layout as your printed book. Good examples would be a recipe book or children’s book.
You can search for and select text in these ebooks, but they’re not reflowable. This means the pages do not adapt themselves for each screen, and the reader can’t change the font or the font size. What you see on page 25 on one device, will be exactly the same as page 25 on all other devices. In a lot of ways, fixed layout ebooks are like a PDF.
Currently, you can only sell fixed layout ebooks through a few specific retailers, but the marketplace is changing rapidly. The fixed layout epub is the principal format but, once again, Amazon will convert this to their own proprietary format for Kindle devices.
Technicians generate these files from your print book files by adapting aspects of the book design (pagination, blanks, trim size, links, references, etc.) to optimize the pages for digital devices. This isn’t always simple, however. Deciding on fonts for these ebooks means a tough decision between purchasing an expensive ebook font license or swapping everything for a free alternative.
The biggest challenge with fixed layout ebooks is text size. A children’s book in a large font will look great on a big tablet. A customer trying to read a textbook font on a smartphone, however, is likely to end up with a headache. Some devices do let customers zoom in on text, but this doesn’t make reading it much fun.
In fact, the device determines almost everything about the fixed ebook reading experience, making it something of a lottery. Other than the Kindle Fire, Kindle devices don’t have color displays, which mean high-quality fixed pages just won’t look their best to your readers.
It’s not all bad news, however. High-resolution devices like the iPad do make fixed layout ebooks look fantastic. Apple iBooks and Google Play are both proving increasingly popular platforms for fixed layout ebooks showing there is some demand.
An ePDF isn’t really a proper ebook at all. Instead, as the name suggests, it’s simply a type of PDF file, specifically designed to make it easier for people to view on an electronic screen.
Online ebook retailers don’t sell or distribute them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their uses. ePDFs let you make your own changes to your print files. You could include images in color, or add clickable hyperlinks and an interactive navigation panel.
The ePDF is gaining in popularity now that PDF software such as Adobe Reader DC is available on everything from a desktop to a tablet and a smartphone. They’ve become an attractive choice for people who want to sell their publication directly via their own website without worrying about complicated conversion processes.
ePDFs are cheaper and easier to produce than other ebooks. They’ll also have exactly the same layout as your printed book, much like a fixed layout ebook. Although readers won’t be able to buy them via popular marketplaces, they can still download, save and read them on almost any device via PDF reading apps. However, since each page is effectively one fixed image, these books can be almost impossible to read on smaller devices. What’s more, the file size will be significantly bigger, so unless people have a lot of space on their device, they may be put off.
Which format is right for my book
So, there are your options, each with their own pros and cons. But with all that said, we would still always recommend that you consider a reflowable ebook first. Readers can buy reflowable ebooks almost everywhere, and, when reading for pleasure, they hands down provide the best user experience.
For books where you feel it’s vital to fix the layout, we’d actually suggest that you consider a low-cost ePDF next. Although this rules out ebook retailer distribution, you can still market and sell the book via your own website. The process is simply so much easier and cheaper than the fixed layout ebook alternative.
We’d really only recommend fixed layout ebooks for illustrated books with larger text. They can look fantastic, but it’s important to understand the additional development and font licensing costs before getting started, so don’t jump into anything too quickly.
Is it all feeling clearer? Now, we won’t hold you back from your ebook any longer. Go for it!