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, fixed layout eBooks can keep the same page layout and design as their print book counterparts, and can sometimes contain enhancements that make them more interesting and interactive. Fixed Layout eBooks are not PDFs, and they should never be created from flat images of every page. 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.
In the information below, we will discuss the specifics of non-fiction fixed layout eBooks. If you are interested in learning about children’s eBooks, please see this page.
As we consult with clients around the world on eBook development, one thing we hear on a very regular basis is that complex eBooks must be designed in a fixed layout format. This myth is believed and repeated by everyone from major publishers to eBook conversion houses to self-publishing information sources. However, this really is a myth. Not only that, it is actually a potentially dangerous idea.
Why dangerous? Because your eBook sales will be affected negatively if you only focus on fixed layout eBook design options. While there is a growing amount of support among the majors retailers and their reading systems for fixed layout eBook formats, the functionality, usability, and overall user experience these files offer are generally very poor. There are some exceptions, but in most cases your readers will receive a much better experience if you create a standard reflowable eBook file with great design and functionality instead of a fixed layout file.
Take the following book as an example. We developed this eBook as a standard ePub and as a fixed layout ePub. Here are screenshots of both designs:
Note that the reflowable eBook design is very similar to the fixed layout eBook design, but it benefits from the reader’s ability to change the font and font size, adjust other settings, etc. You do lose some design capabilities when going to reflowable eBooks, but in many cases the benefits of that decision, especially the expanded sales opportunities, outweigh the lost design elements.
The eBook marketplace changes very rapidly, so being up-to-date on everything is hard to do. Just so you know where things stand right now, let’s cover the basics of what is possible with non-fiction fixed layout content. Don’t forget, there is a difference between the format an eBook is created in and the reading system (device, app, etc.) that the eBook file is read in. We are going to focus on the formats here, while letting you know where they are supported.
While ePub2 has been around for a long time, it does not officially have a fixed layout eBook option. However, Apple developed a solution of its own, adding some functionality that allows a standard ePub2 file to be displayed in a fixed layout. This format was later adopted by Kobo, and was the basis of the fixed layout format added to the newer ePub3 standard. Apple still supports the ePub2 fixed layout format, but officially recommends that all non-fiction titles be created in ePub3 or iBooks Author. Kobo still supports the format for children’s eBooks, but we do not recommend using it for non-fiction eBooks sold through the Kobo platform.
As mentioned above, the ePub3 fixed layout format was based on Apple’s ePub2 extention, but ePub3 brings a much more stable foundation to the format. In addition to having native support for more features and functionality, ePub3 is being more widely adopted across the different retail platforms, including Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Google.
Functionality of these ePub fixed layout options will vary widely based on the reading system in which they are displayed, but let’s go over some of the key features you are likely to see, especially in the Apple iBooks system:
Device support: Apple’s iBooks application is the most common location to find these ePub fixed layout files, and it tends to have the best support for the various options mentioned above. Kobo supports ePub3 fixed layout on their tablet devices
In addition to the ePub2 and ePub3 fixed layout formats, Apple’s iBooks platform also supports another format called iBooks Author. Now, the naming of this can be confusing, so just remember that “iBooks” is the app on the iPad/iPhone that you use when reading eBooks, and “iBooks Author” is the Mac program you can use to create eBooks.
iBooks Author is a tool for creating non-fiction fixed layout eBooks. While the tool places a specific emphasis on textbooks, it works well for other types of non-fiction as well. However, it is not intended for children’s eBooks, and is not the best option for those. iBooks Author has a few key features that set it apart from standard fixed layout ePub files:
Apple is really trying to push its iBooks Author format, and will usually not do promotions for ePub fixed layout non-fiction titles, choosing to promote iBooks Author files instead. For that reason, it is best to create non-fiction fixed layout files in the iBooks Author format, not the standard fixed layout format, whenever possible.
Amazon’s Kindle Format 8 has a fixed layout option that works well for children’s eBooks. However, the smaller size of the Kindle Fire screens and the inflexibility of reading options in this format make it a less desirable option for non-fiction fixed layout content.
Unlike Apple’s implementation of the ePub fixed layout formats, KF8 does not allow page zooming in fixed layout files, and the 16:9 screen aspect ratio is not as close to standard print book trim sizes as the iPad’s 4:3 ratio. If you decide you would like to make a fixed layout file for the Amazon platform, we recommend you approach it this way:
The proprietary eBook format used by Barnes & Noble for their fixed layout children’s eBooks is not intended for or available for non-fiction content.
Periodically we hear questions about making a fixed layout eBook in the magazine format that is supported on many of the devices. Unfortunately, this format is not related to the standard eBook formats, and the retailers do not sell them alongside eBooks or through the same sales mechanisms. We do not recommend using those formats for eBooks.
Now that you know what is possible, it might be more clear that fixed layout eBooks are not as fleshed out as they could be, and that it would be best to consider if and how to approach the development of these files. We always recommend a balanced approach to eBook development and sales. For many complex non-fiction eBooks, it is not necessary to create a fixed layout eBook. However, it might make sense to develop a standard reflowable eBook for most retailers while taking a more interactive approach with an iBooks Author file. The final decision should be based on an assessment of how the content will work as a reflowable eBook and on the sales potential of the book. If you will make the development cost back easily, then it might make sense to develop a more complex file with lots of bells and whistles.