Fixed Layout Vs. Reflowable EPUBs

Deciding which type of EPUB to create has gotten a lot more complicated in the past year, now that you have to decide between whether to create a reflowable EPUB or a fixed layout file, and whether the book should be in EPUB2 or 3 format.

When deciding which format is best for your book, here are some questions that should help you make your decision:

1. Does the book have a lot of images?

Fixed layout format preserves your original design on each page, so it’s better suited to displaying illustrations and photographs in kids’ books, cookbooks, textbooks, comic books, and coffee-table books. You can also place text over images in fixed layout.

2. Does the book have a lot of complex charts and graphs?

Fixed layout is more flexible in some ways that are useful for books with a lot of data in chart format. Text can be arranged in multiple columns on the page, and the size and shape of charts will be consistent no matter what device or operating system the user is viewing the book through.

3. Is it important to you that the book is accessible on eInk devices?

Fixed layout EPUB2 files are not available on eInk devices, so if you would like to make your book available on EPDs, you may want to opt for reflowable format. You could also create an EPUB3 fixed layout file, which can be viewed on an electronic paper display device.

4. Is cost an issue?

Generally, reflowable ebooks are considerably less expensive to produce than fixed layout EPUBs, although this may change as fixed layout becomes more popular.

5. Do you want the reader to be able to change the font and size of the text?

The reader doesn’t have the ability to make changes to the appearance of the text with fixed-layout ebooks, so reflowable is a better option if you’re concerned with increasing the functionality and flexibility of your text.

6. Does the book need to have a horizontal orientation?

For children’s books, cookbooks, and other image-based works with double page-spreads, it’s nice to be able to flip the book into landscape view. That’s only possible with fixed layout.

7. Are you adding any audio or video enhancements to the text?

Enhancements like Read-Aloud audio for kids’ books, GIFs, and embedded video players can only be added to fixed layout EPUB files.

8. Is it important that the reader have the ability to search through the text?

It’s easier for readers to search text, use dictionary functionality, and leave bookmarks, in a reflowable EPUB.

9. Should you make the book in EPUB2 or EPUB3 format?

The short answer is that if you have the capability, EPUB3 is preferable. Fixed layout EPUB3 files can be viewed on EPDs, which is a big plus. The standard for EPUB3 is generally more robust and well organized than the EPUB2 spec, as well. The EPUB2 fixed layout format was created by Apple, and adapted by other retailers like Kobo for use on their devices, but not all retailers can accommodate EPUB2 fixed layout files.

10. What file types do your retail partners accept?

It may be worth checking in with the e-retailers that you work with in order to see which file types they support, as, at present, different vendors have different capabilities.

There’s an impulse sometimes to assume that the newest technology must be the best, but in some cases, simpler is still better. For most text-based books, this is true for the reliable old reflowable EPUB format.

Reflowable EPUBs are easier and more economical to create than fixed layout files, and they require less quality assurance testing on the part of the publisher and the retailer. They give the reader more control over the reading experience, and they can be viewed on a wider variety of devices.

So before you sign on to have your whole catalogue converted to fixed layout in order to keep up with the ever–evolving digital industry, take some time to think about which books would benefit from the format, and which ones would be better served by the reflowable format.

For more information on Fixed Layout EPUBs, be sure to check out BISG’s comprehensive guide on the subject.