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Fixed-format or Reflowable ebooks

Fixed-format or Reflowable?

Following on from our last post about the merits of EPUB 2 versus EPUB 3, we wanted to talk about how publishers decide whether their books should be fixed-format or reflowable. But first, what do these terms mean?


Fixed Format

An example of a fixed-format eBook

Fixed-format (or fixed-layout) is pre-paginated content, i.e. it’s an exact visual replica of the print book, including images and their placement. It can be useful for certain kinds of highly designed content, such as illustrated children’s books and graphic novels, and is intended only for larger screens, such as tablets. There is also the option for the reader to zoom in to specific area of the page by double-tapping and for the integration of the audio version of the same book, with the words that are being spoken changing colour as the narration proceeds.



An example of a complex reflowable eBook

Reflowable layout literally means that the text can reflow across pages to fit according to the typeface and font size selected by the consumer. It is wise to use only one column for all text, and images may need to be slightly relocated. In a print book, an image may be located mid-paragraph where the image is, for example, at the bottom of the verso and the paragraph continues on the recto. Reflowable eBooks can be displayed well on any device – phone, tablet or e-ink. It’s worth noting that all modern devices control for widows and orphans and have some control over tracking and kerning to give the best reading experience.

How to choose?

Publishers need to balance many things when deciding which format to go for. It costs considerably more to create a fixed-format eBook, but it will look identical to the print version. However, anyone who’s ever tried to read a PDF on an e-ink device (average screen size 6 inches) or their phone (average screen size 4.5 inches) will attest that fixed-format is not ideal for all devices. Publishers need to consider not just the end user but, crucially, what device they will be reading the book on. A tablet or iPad will display at closer to the original print size, but many people read on much smaller devices.

For children’s books it is more likely that they will be read on a large screen like a tablet, so it’s perhaps okay that the book will be an awful reading experience on an e-ink device (it’s worth noting that there’s little to stop your fixed-format book being bought on almost any device, regardless of suitability). Readers using a phone or e-ink device will be confronted with text too small too read, meaning they have to zoom and pan. So for people reading a cook book recipe on their phone while they’re cooking, this offers a poor reading experience.

Most books can be made reflowable with a little flexibility on layout. It’s not suitable for all books – a graphic novel would be impossible to make as reflowable, for example – but it does give you access to 100% of the devices out there and thus an increased readership. At Siliconchips we have years of experience with both formats and can help you decide which to go for or provide a free sample of each. Contact us – we’re always happy to help!

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