Learn About eBooks

Non-Fiction Fixed Layout eBooks

Fixed-layout eBooks are a popular format for eBooks today, especially for childrens 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.

First Things First: Is it Best for Your eBook?

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.

What is Possible Right Now

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.

ePub2 and ePub3 Fixed Layout

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:

  • Full-page zoom: While other fixed layout formats may not allow the page to zoom in or out, this is a common option for the ePub fixed layout format.
  • Single-page view: In some devices it is possible to make the eBook switch to view only one page at a time instead of the standard two page spread. This is sometimes controlled by the reading system (meaning that you as the creator have control) while in other cases this is dynamic based on the orientation of the device (landscape vs. portrait).
  • Embedded media: Fixed layout files are regularly enhanced with embedded video and audio (more information)
  • Animations and interactivity: While this may seem like a more likely candidate for enhancing a children’s eBook, there are a lot of great ways to add interesting and helpful interactivity to non-fiction content, as well. (more information)
  • Narration overlays: This integration between text and narration are currently almost completely limited to fixed layout files. (more information)

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

iBooks Author

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:

  • Full page coverage: iBooks Author files are automatically designed to fill up the full screen of the iPad, not just to match the page dimensions of the print book. You can also design the book in landscape or portrait, depending on what works better for your content.
  • Reflowable option: There is an option in iBooks Author to allow the reader to change to a reflowable mode by rotating the device into portrait mode.
  • Widgets: iBooks Author comes with a few built-in widgets that add some basic functionality like image galleries, but you can also create more complex or specific widgets. For example, you might be able to include weather or maps from the internet to travel books, or add some measurement conversion or serving size assistance in a cookbook. The possibilities are endless, but these widgets have to be coded by professional developers.
  • Integrated media content: iBooks Author files can open up to a video that plays automatically, allowing you to offer an introduction to the book in that more engaging format. You are also able to design the visual interface of the video or audio player to make it better integrate with your eBook design.

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.

Kindle Format 8 Fixed Layout

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:

  1. Determine what content you need to include. Sometimes it is best to have some content, like media files, available on your website instead of including them in your eBook files.
  2. Re-design the content to fit in a 16:9 screen aspect ratio. This will more than likely require re-designing the whole book, increasing the overall font size, adding new pages to adjust to the smaller page size, etc.
  3. Remember that the Kindle format does not allow page or element zooming, so you should consider how to make the content work at the native screen size.
  4. Amazon’s fixed layout format has a region magnification option that allows you to make text pop up in a more readable size. Apply this magnification carefully. You do not want that getting in the way of your readers or covering up important visual content.
  5. Test the final file extensively on the different Kindle devices. Some devices will work better with fixed layout than others. Note that the file will probably not be available on the eInk screen devices like the Paperwhite, only on the Fire tablet devices.
Barnes & Noble’s Fixed Layout Format

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. B&N does have a fixed layout format for non-fiction titles called PagePerfect, but it is actually just an auto-converted PDF file. The PagePerfect format is only available to publishers who have a contract directly with B&N.

Magazines and other formats

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.

Striking the Balance

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.

 

FAQs

Is it a good idea to put my Table of contents at the end of my eBook?

Some people do this to increase the size of the free samples automatically generated by the eBook retailers. However, the Kindle and other devices will re-set the “last read location” to the end of the book if you have your Table of Contents there, so we normally recommend against that practice.

What is the difference between HTML5 and XHTML5?

HTML5 is the latest version of the HTML standard used on the Web and in eBooks. XHTML5 is a stricter and cleaner version of HTML5, with rules from XML imposed on the code. For example, when a tag is opened it has to be closed, and all of the tags have to be properly nested. XHTML5 allows the code to be more easily interpreted by the display engine, and it keeps the code more consistent and easier to edit.

I have heard you can’t use color in eBooks. Is that correct?

No, that is absolutely incorrect. eBooks look great with color, and we highly recommend using color images and even colored text (within reason) in your eBook files. Some devices have grayscale eInk screens, so the color will not show up on those devices. However, the color will be in the file, and it will work on all of the color devices. We do recommend you test colored text on a device with an eInk screen and ensure that the text will not be too light to read.

Do you need to have a separate ISBN for each version of the eBook for different companies?

Technically, yes. See an extended answer on our ISBNs page.

What is KindleGen?

KindleGen is Amazon’s eBook creation/compiling program. It is used on the KDP website to auto-convert files uploaded into the Kindle store, and it is also integrated into the Kindle Previewer program to handle the conversion of non-Kindle files loaded in that program. You can download KindleGen and get access to other Kindle creation information at amazon.com/kindlepublishing.

What is a fixed layout eBook?

Fixed Layout eBooks are HTML-based eBook files that are usually designed to match the layout of a print book. The key difference between fixed layout files and reflowable files is that reflowable eBooks allow the reader to have more control over the reading experience, such as changing the font size, background color, etc. For more information, please see our Fixed Layout Children’s and Non-Fiction pages.

Does Amazon sell HTML files or only Kindle?

Amazon only sells eBooks in the Kindle format, but that format, just like ePub, is built using HTML and CSS files.

How is fixed layout different from a pdf of the book?

Fixed layout eBooks are built using HTML, so they have more functionality than PDF files. For example, the narration overlay functionality used in many children’s eBooks is not possible in PDF files. In addition, none of the eBook retailers sell PDFs, so fixed layout eBook files offer the best sales opportunities.

A university librarian told me they are not acquiring any Kindle books but only HTML5/ePub. Have you found that to be common with other libraries? I know our local public library does buy Kindle books.

Libraries acquire their eBooks from services like 3M and Overdrive. These services sometimes offer an option for Kindle checkouts, but typically they are limited to ePub files because of the more common use of the Adobe DRM.

Has the Kindle format gotten any more sophisticated in how it handles tables or floating images?

Yes, Amazon’s Kindle Format 8 has support for many great design features, including floating images, tables, color text, embedded fonts, and more.

Do the eBook files you create include a linked Table of Contents?

Yes, all of our files include the proper linking for the Table of Contents, index, and other elements.

How are page numbers handled in an eBook?

Print book page numbers are included in the HTML code of both the Kindle and ePub formats as anchors. They are also listed in the PageList section of the NCX or Navigation file. The PageList is used by some reading systems (like the Kindle and iBooks) to show the reader the print page numbers of the book as they read.

How are page headers created in eBook files?

The different reading systems control what shows up in the header of your eBook. Most will display the title of the book, and some will also display the author name. That text cannot currently be set to display the chapter name or other information about where the reader is currently reading in the text.

How do eBooks handle hyphenation of long words?

Some eBook reading systems will apply hyphenation to longer words to make the text better fit on the screen. This is typically controlled by the reading system, and will change depending on the font size and other settings the reader has set on their device.

What about protecting the file?

eBook file protection is called Digital Rights Management (DRM). Please see our DRM page for information on how it works and suggestions on how to use it.

Do you build websites?

No, eBook Architects does not currently build websites. We recommend you contact a local website design company or use a service like Squarespace.

Can I sell my eBooks on my own website?

Yes! You are certainly able to sell your eBooks on your own website. For more information, please see this page.