Status of this page: expandVersion: 0.6| October 20, 2018
And the answer is: well that depends on all sorts of things.
Let’s go through the options and dependancies.
We can go into the details of these formats later but in this section we can just list the types and some of the basic attributes.
Here is a format that many will already use. PDF was invented by Adobe Systems but the format is open and anyone can create an application to display the PDF. The great thing about the PDF is that it can display the various components of a page with graphics, text and fonts all embedded in the same file. This is what makes it easy to distribute, because everything is contained inside one file.
Problems with the PDF as an eBook include the fact that tablets and eInk devices don’t have appropriate software to make use of these extra interactive features. Selling PDF eBooks through the main vendor’s ecosystems (Apple, Amazon etc.) is also not possible. PDFs can be delivered (and often are) through publisher’s web sites, but adding DRM (Digital Rights Management) is expensive.
The first version of the ePub standard was released by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) in 2007. The IDPF is a consortium of organisations and individuals. The standard is open and anyone can create software that will read and display the ePub.
The specification was originally in use as version 2 (ePub2) and in this release books could only be re-flowable with text not formatted as is for print but more like a web page; flowing to fit the size of the device or window.
In the latest version of the format ePub3, we have 2 available modes; the re-flowable and the fixed-layout forms. They are different in the amount of display control that they leave to the user/reader. Within a re-flowable eBook, the user may change the font size, the typeface and (on some devices), display features such as leading, alignment, justification and hyphenation. On the other hand, the fixed-layout form removes any such flexibility, and the page designer can arrange text and image on each page and be sure that this is how it will remain. The fixed-layout form is the friend to the graphic designer; the re-flowable form provides more accessibility for the user.
So, in summary, the ePub can either be used to deliver re-flowable or fixed-layout content.
The ePub file can be converted to the Kindle
mobi format (see below), and Amazon make available tools to make this conversion relatively painless1. A good publishing strategy is to create for the ePub format first and then convert to the Kindle format from your validated ePub file. This is the best way you get the best of both worlds because you can test on the devices before release. On the other hand, Amazon will convert the ePub for you when you submit the ePub to them, however, you will not see the Kindle version until it is already on the Amazon Kindle store.
I am separating these formats out because they are specific to the Amazon family of products such as the Kindle eInk reader.
The MOBI format used on the eInk devices is based on the original format used on PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) such as the Palm Pilot. Amazon took over this format in 2005 and have further developed the specification to include a the KF8 format; targeting the Kindle tablets, such as the Kindle Fire, which can display fixed format and media rich eBooks.
The Kindle formats are not an open (public) formats and no devices other than the Amazon family can use the format.
This format of eBook can only be created with Apple’s free software; iBooks Author.
This is a proprietary format, only viewable on Apple devices (iPad or MAC) and is more difficult to define. It is a package of files in a container that has similar characteristics to the ePub, but post editing the contents is not recommended! The iBook format can be read on the iPad’s iBooks app or on a MAC with iBooks.
It is very difficult to advise anyone which is the best approach for publishing eBooks, because it will depend on so many variables. For what it’s worth though, here are my 3 points that you should consider:
If the content is mostly text, then build as a re-flowable ePub3 (ePub2 if you want to support older devices) version and convert to mobi/kindle. This way, you get to distribute for most platforms. You can have nice typography, good table of contents with an attractive cover and chapter headings. You can use Adobe InDesign for this and by adding Amazon’s free KindleGen into your toolset, you get the Kindle version too.
If the content needs lots of illustrations, embedded in the text, with specific layout requirements (such as double page spreads, or full screen images), then you have to decide between iBooks Author (simple to use free software), that will only deliver to the Apple devices — or a fixed-layout ePub that has limited support on devices other than the Apple tablets, but can (with limitations) be converted to the Kindle KF8 format (for Kindle Fire). You may need to consider your existing workflow and ‘in house’ skills when making this choice. The fixed-layout ePub3 (rather than the iBooks Author iBook) is likely to be the best choice if you are publishing to print as well as eBook from the same (InDesign) file.
OK, let’s now try to build a list of the choices
Converting a re-flowable ePub to the mobi format for the Amazon Kindle is more successful than the fixed-layout format. ↩