Fixed-layout eBooks are a popular format for eBooks today, especially for children’s eBooks and for complex non-fiction like cookbooks and textbooks. Unlike standard eBook files, these eBooks can keep the same layout and designs as their print book counterparts, and can sometimes contain enhancements that make them more interesting and interactive. These eBooks are not PDFs. They are fully-functional HTML-based eBook files in every way, however, the specific styles and layouts used in these files are not re-flowable like standard eBook files.
The four largest eBook retailers (Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Kobo) all support fixed layout eBook files. Amazon, B&N, and Apple have all created their own unique fixed layout eBook file formats; Kobo supports the Apple format for the most part. (Note: The Apple format discussed here is not the format produced with iBooks Author. That format is intended primarily for textbooks and is not part of the discussion here on fixed layout eBook files.)
The majority of eBooks in these fixed-layout formats are children’s eBooks because Amazon and B&N currently to not currently support non-fiction; however, it is important to note that Apple’s fixed layout format is not limited to that one genre. It can be used for art books, pamphlets, cookbooks, and other materials that need to retain their original layouts.
Below, we will discuss these three fixed layout formats and their functionality individually, but I recommend that you read this entire page from top to bottom instead of skipping around.
Apple started offering fixed layout options in December 2010, and it has increased the capabilities of its system significantly since then.
Let’s take a look at an example. We have converted a public domain copy of Peter Rabbit into the fixed-layout format. You can see the source files here, and below are a few scans of those original print book pages for reference:
For Apple’s fixed layout ePub format, we take the original content and create eBook files that match the layout and formatting as closely as possible to the print layout using HTML, CSS, and embedded fonts. The end result is an iBooks-ready file with searchable text, beautiful design, and high-quality graphics, that looks just like the print book. You can download our sample Peter Rabbit ePub file here and load it into iBooks on your iPad to see it in action. Here are a few screenshots:
As I mentioned above, Apple’s fixed layout ePub format works well for non-fiction books, too. Here is an example of some pages from a heavily designed non-fiction title we created for Quarterama (www.quarterama.com):
In addition to standard fixed layout files, Apple’s platform supports narration integration, as well as some animation and interactivity options that are not currently available in the other fixed layout options.
If you have audio narration available for your eBook, we can add that narration as a media overlay to fixed-layout ePubs in Apple’s platform, allowing readers to have the eBook read to them as they follow along. We place a marker in the code around every word in the book. Then we connect start and end timestamps from your audio files to each of those words, allowing the iBooks software to play the specific portion of the audio file while highlighting or changing the font color of the word for the reader.
Because of the cost and time involved, we only do narration overlays on children’s eBooks 60 pages and under, and we only add them to fixed-layout ePubs that we have created, not to files created by other companies. You must provide the audio files in the format required by Apple (Stereo, AAC/MP4, 256 kbps, Encoded using iTunes), and we will want to talk with you directly about how you would like the audio to function for the reader.
Fixed layout files in iBooks can support a variety of interesting animations and enhancements. The best example of the kinds of interactivity you can do in these files can be seen in The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine eBook. If you have an iPad, go download the eBook for free from the iTunes store. If you do not have an iPad, you can watch this great little preview of the eBook and see some of the things it can do.
Essentially, iBooks allows us to create interactive flourishes to a book, like moving elements on the page, interacting with touches the reader makes on the screen, etc. We can also depart from the standard interactivity and add customized actions and animations to your eBooks. Pricing for this service is handled on an individual project basis and is usually charged our consulting/programming rate of $150 per hour.
In addition to media overlays and animations, there are other media options we can include in a fixed-layout ePub file. For example, if your book has ambient audio that should play without changing as the pages are turned, we can include that in the fixed layout ePub file for you. This is a great way to enhance an art book or other meditative title.
We can also add video and audio clips to fixed layout files. These clips have to display with the standard video and audio player windows, but this is a great option for adding more value to the contents of your eBook.
Both of these options are charged the same as adding video or audio to regular ePub files. Please see our Enhanced eBooks page for more information and for pricing.
B&N has its own proprietary format for fixed layout eBook files. The format is only intended for children’s eBooks, so the non-fiction titles you can do in the iBooks platform are not possible at this time. However children’s eBooks in the Nook platform do look very good, and they can include audio narration. Because the pages cannot be zoomed in, this format allows the reader to tap on a block of text and see that text zoomed in on the screen. If the eBook has narration built in they will also see a play button on the top left of that text magnification box so that they can play the narration associated with it, as you can see in the screenshots below.
Kindle Format 8, Amazon’s update to the older Mobipocket format, also includes a proprietary fixed layout format. Like the B&N format, KF8 fixed layout files allow the reader to tap on text and see it in a magnified view. However, this format does not currently offer narration, so it is currently the least functional of the fixed layout formats available.
The Apple and Amazon fixed layout formats are designed in HTML and CSS, which means that we have to completely re-arrange the text and images as they were arranged in your original files. The B&N format is based on images of each full page and it is built with a proprietary tool, so it can be created with much less manual labor.
For most fixed layout eBooks we prefer to receive four things from you:  A high-resolution PDF file showing the final layout (RGB, not CMYK),  the book images (RGB, at least 1500px on the long side, consistent aspect ratio based on page size and use),  the text of the book in a Word document, and  the fonts to be used. If all you have is a high-resolution PDF file of your book, that can sometimes be enough, as well, especially for longer books. In the PDF and in the images, the text and graphics must be separate (images cannot contain text).
Regarding fonts: We will need you to confirm that each of the fonts that are used in the print book can actually be embedded in the eBook files as well. Many font licenses do not include embedding by default, and we do not embed fonts without your explicit instructions because of potential legal issues. If you cannot verify embedding in a font license, or if you cannot purchase a license that allows embedding, we can replace that font with either 1) a specific Open License font like the ones at Google Web Fonts and Font Squirrel, or 2) one of the fonts installed by default on the iPad (go to http://iosfonts.com on an iPad for the list). All fonts we use must be Open Type or True Type fonts, as well; no Mac- or PC-specific fonts. In asking us to embed specific fonts, you accept all responsibility and liability for ensuring you have the proper embedding licenses. (Note that the B&N format is unique in this issue: when creating their fixed layout format the text ends up being integrated with the page images, so font licenses are not required.)
Fixed layout files can be very difficult to create, so the prices are much more expensive than our standard eBook prices. The page counts below include the covers (front and back), end-papers, and any blank pages because those are created the same way as other pages in the eBook.
|1-59 pages||$15 per page||$5 per page||$250 flat|
|60-99 pages||$13 per page||$5 per page||$250 flat|
|100-199 pages||$10 per page||$4 per page||quote|
|200-299 pages||$9 per page||$4 per page||quote|
|300 or more pages||$8 per page||$3 per page||quote|
The Amazon prices above are based on the assumption that we are also creating the Apple fixed layout file. If you decide to only do Amazon’s format then the Apple prices will be used. Each individual format has a minimum fee of $250. When Apple and Amazon files are both being created, they have a cumulative minimum fee of $500.
To make it easier for you to see the cost of your eBook files, please use this estimation tool. Just type in the number of pages below and choose the files you would like us to create.
If you have audio narration available for your eBook, we can add that narration to Apple’s and Barnes & Noble’s fixed-layout eBooks, allowing readers to have the eBook read to them as they follow along.
Barnes & Noble: We charge a flat $200 to add audio to a Barnes & Noble fixed layout eBook file. As described above, these files do not link the individual words to the narration, only each text block.
Apple: Apple’s format allows us to make each word of the text to be highlighted as it is being read. We place a marker in the code around every word in the text of the book. Then we connect start and end timestamps from your audio files to each of those words, allowing the iBooks software to play the specified portion of the audio file while highlighting the correct word for the reader.
Because of the cost and time involved, we only do narration overlays on children’s eBooks, and we only add them to fixed-layout eBook files that we have created. You must provide the audio files in the format required by Apple (Stereo, AAC/MP4, 256 kbps, Encoded using iTunes), and we will want to talk with you directly about how the audio should function for the reader.
Pricing for this add-on is very simple. We charge a base fee of $200 for each book. If you provide us with the proper timestamp information for each word (we can give you a template), then there is no additional cost. If we have to create the timestamp information ourselves, then you will be charged an additional $0.35 per word. For reference, most 32-page children’s books have 1,000 words or less. Here is a handy estimation tool:
It is important that we make a note here about the distribution of your fixed layout eBook files. To get your fixed layout eBook up for sale in the B&N Nook Kids store, you either need to have a direct publisher relationship with B&N, or you need to use a distributor. You cannot upload fixed layout Nook files to the PubIt! self-publishing system. Apple also allows direct uploads into their iTunes Connect system or the use of a distributor. Please see more about retailers and distributors on our Retailers page.
Many people think of standalone eBook applications like Toy Story and The Cat in the Hat when they think of children’s eBooks.
(click to enlarge)
Creating applications like these for tablets like the iPad is usually a very difficult and expensive endeavor. We do not offer these app-building services because our focus is currently on building eBook files. To have it done, you will need to find a developer or a company that creates iPad apps and work with them to develop the perfect app for your book. The cost on these apps can range upwards of $25,000, so it is not usually a path for many children’s book authors.
The best advice we have for clients desiring to go this route is: 1) Find a developer in your own area, or someone who has experience making eBook apps already, so that you can have more control over the design and functionality of the app (you can sometimes find developers in your own town through websites like Craigslist); 2) have ideas when you go into the process of what you want, but prioritize them so that you know what to cut as the expenses rise; 3) be willing to be flexible on development ideas depending on the capabilities of your developer; 4) be aware that Apple requires all eBook apps to do more than is possible in a fixed layout ePub file in iBooks, so go in with some ideas for making your app more interactive than the files we create.
We highly recommend Padworx Digital Media for these types of projects. They have a solid eBook app engine, award-winning eBook apps, and a great small-company approach. If you have an established series of children’s books that has already been successful in print, you might consider talking with Oceanhouse Media, makers of the Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears apps. If you have comics, manga, or graphic novels, you might look into using Comixology’s Guided View system to create and sell your eBooks.