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New software to convert InDesign books to fixed layout ePUB

Circular Software has just released CircularFLO, a solution for automatically creating fixed layout ePUB files from InDesign layouts. (Fixed layout ePUB is a variant of the ePUB standard that is viewable only on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. Fixed layout ePUB can be used for graphically rich content where you don’t want the text to wrap to the screen size of a particular device.)

CircularFLO is a Macintosh-only program that requires you to have Creative Suite CS5.5 Design Standard installed. The learning curve is really low. To convert an InDesign file to fixed layout ePUB, you just create an InDesign Book file containing a special “cover” file as well as one or more content files. Then you launch CircularFLO, press the “Create Fixed-Layout EPUB” button, and wait. The process is slow (approximately 5 pages per minute). When it’s finished, a complete ePUB is produced and loaded into iTunes, ready for you to preview on your i-device.

Each page of the resulting ePUB file should look exactly like your InDesign layout. There is no need to worry about fonts or unsupported effects. This is because CircularFLO uses InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator to rasterize each InDesign page into a pixel-perfect JPEG image. The completed ePUB file is a “wrapper” around a series of JPEG files with the accompanying text stored in HTML format, along with some other supporting files. Even though the final ePUB file is a series of JPEG images, the text is still searchable.

CircularFLO even lets you build a table of contents for your ePUB by inserting Section Markers in your InDesign file. There is no support for interactivity or rich media in the ePUB files created by CircularFLO.

Unfortunately, the only file on the iBooks store that Cingular is highlighting as an example of an actual CircularFLO project is 40 Short Walks in Surrey which is only available to download in Great Britain. So if you want to see the results of CircularFLO, you’ll need to try it for yourself. You can download CircularFLO free. It will create a completed watermarked EPUB of the first 10 pages of any InDesign file.

In my tests, the finished ePUB files were precisely faithful to the InDesign originals. The ePUB files worked well on both my iPad and iPhone.

The biggest drawback to CircularFLO that I can see is in the extent of the text searchability. See the screenshot below.

Imagine that we want to search for the word “physiology” or the phrase “white stripes”. In an ePUB created with CircularFLO from this layout, neither would be returned as a match. This is because of how CircularFLO stores the internal representation of the searchable text as HTML. See the screenshot below.

In this sample of the HTML code produced by CircularFLO as part of the ePUB file, you can see that each line of the InDesign text creates a separate line of code in the HTML. So the ePUB search function will only search these single lines. Words or phrases that span a line will not be matched accurately. This may be acceptable for certain types of books where a robust search isn’t critical. But this needs to be improved to make this tool useful for a wide variety of projects.

CircularFLO is priced on a “per file” basis. The current price is $199 USD per ePUB file produced.

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31 Comments on “New software to convert InDesign books to fixed layout ePUB

  1. Also, I would have concerns about Apple pulling the plug on a book with that searchability limitation, and be left with a $199 non-editable reject.

    I do hope that CircularFlo will be proactive in addressing these issues, because we are now sadly lacking in a viable workflow for converting InDesign content to fixed-layout for iBooks, Kindle 8, and the newly announced Nook fixed-layout format ? if those companies EVER get real with making their specs fully available to all publishers.

  2. Sounds promising, and possibly a good start. Without a Mac or a CS5.5 – so can’t test it for myself.

    I live in hope that one day making an ePub will be as easy as exporting a PDF.

  3. Interesting idea, but a PDF it’s more searchable and accessible than this, and since the strength of the fixed layout ePUB is in it’s multimedia capabilities, I would stick with the PDF. It’s easier to distribute.

  4. @Marcio, for some, the big advantage of an ePUB over a PDF is the ability to distribute the ePUB on the iBooks store, either for free or for profit. I wish Apple would allow PDFs on the iBooks store!

  5. For paid books, completely agree, but for free ones, there’s no aparent need. That said, I’m really interested to see the development of this tool, there’s nothing like this at the time.

  6. Keith – Thanks for the review. This site is a favourite or ours and it’s great to be featured. Of course we’d expect the more technical aspects of CircularFLO to be examined here. We feel the average or even novice InDesign user will love the ability to create exact replicas of their print layouts for the iBookstore without going near any code. We appreciate your point on searching but let’s not forget that the still to be released consumer InDesign DPS offers zero text searching…

    Rick – We have already had the EPUB that is output from CircularFLO accepted and for sale in iBookstore, see our website http://www.circularsoftware.com , and we will happily refund any purchase that fails to be accepted on technical grounds. But would have ask the reason seeing as there are an increasing amount of (great looking) EPUBs on iBookstore with no search functionality at all including Apple’s own example here http://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/itunes-festival-london-2011/id449189504?mt=11&ls=1 

    David – We see ourselves as a provider of a production tool not a creative tool. As a seasoned author you must realise that producing a packaged, valid and saleable product usually costs a lot more than our $199 introductory price! If we were a freelancers or conversion house offering to convert any book, any page range to an exact fixed layout EPUB for under $200 then would you feel the same?

  7. I think the point David is trying to make, and is one I agree, with is that the pricing does not reflect the way most software is sold. Imagine if Adobe charged for every PDF exported from InDesign?

    I realize that programming is not easy and that it requires a lot of work, however, I don’t think a user should be charged per use.

  8. Weighing in on the “pricing debate”. Granted, this isn’t “the way most software is sold”. But unlike creating a PDF, creating a fixed layout ePUB isn’t the kind of thing most people are going to do frequently. So from Circular’s perspective, I’d imagine they could have chosen to charge $XX,XXX for a permanent, unlimited license. In which case, only people who create lots and lots of ePUBs could afford it. Or, they could take the path they’ve chosen of charging a small amount for each ePUB created, making it accessible to even those with an occasional need to create an ePUB.

    This is a new software/service model, indeed. Similar to what Adobe is doing with DPS pricing. Time will tell how the market reacts to it.

  9. Frankly, epub only works for text-heavy interior books. Once you start inserting images, graphics, etc. you need a better alternative.

    Fixed format = PDF at this point in time. I think we are reaching a point of abusing epub format. Stop trying to find a one-button solution for converting existing content.

    Nook’s new fixed format is basically a better PDF reader….one can only hope.

  10. My impression with CF after one use, is that it needs some more UI and option works. At least it should have a status display showing what’s going on in the process of making the epub file. For several times I thought the program quit working because there was nothing happening on the screen for a long while after I clicked the button. Also, why did CF opens all my CS5.5 programs such as AI and PS when all we really needed was just ID? Great approach for the fixed layout epub need but the software needs some improvement. Hope the $199 per pub fee helps with the development.

  11. Well I do not have a MAC, I do have a PC what if
    I would put up my single doc. files in a book plus encolse after each photopage a blank page where I do set the text there. I mean when you have mainly a photobook with the lyrics within the photos highlighted. This turned out to be wrapped up and destroyed in Epubformat.

    Or is there an other solution for me?

    At least I am happy to have found these blog-thing here.

  12. Christine, by forcing each image and each block of text (the image caption?) into separate INDD files, and then collecting those into one InDesign Book and exporting to EPUB, then yes, you’ll end up with an EPUB with a page break separating every picture/caption/picture/caption. And a VERY long nav TOC (one entry per page!) If a caption is long or the user increases the text size, then it may break into 2 or more pages, but that’s it.

    The point about a Fixed Layout epub is that you can overlay captions on top of images, or put multiple images on a single page with multiple captions, and they will stay “fixed” in those positions like a PDF. But the text is live, not a JPEG or anything. It can be selected, bookmarked, searched for, etc.

  13. I have to say that the quotes from companies offering to convert inDesign or PDF files to high quality, highly graphical Fixed Layout ePubs I have gathered over the past 2 years makes this method of conversion fairly ‘inexpensive’. The test I ran using the free software was very impressive. I guess the company have to make money while they have a product that isn’t built into Adobe software. Question is, how long will it take for Indesign come with a similar function? if I can negotiate a decent bulk discount I will almost certainly be using this company to digitize our back catalogue.

  14. We have recently released CircularFLO version 2.0. which has added some great new features.

    Live selectable text
    Text in your EPUB from CircularFLO can now be displayed using the live font. This means readers are able to select text by tapping on screen and searched text is highlighted on the page.

    Improved text searching
    We have always provided searchable text in CircularFLO EPUBs but this has been improved (to XHTML rather than SVG, if you’re interested!) This means it is faster to create, faster to search and is fully searchable throughout multi-line paragraphs.

    Embedded Video and Audio
    It’s now simple to add enhancements to the flat page by adding video and audio files. Audio can be played with a tap and video can be run in position or the reader can zoom to full screen, returning to the page when complete.

    Tappable Links
    Hyperlinks are now easy to add to your CircularFLO EPUBs and can be attached to any region of a page. Offer your readers links to other pages in the EPUB or to pages on the web.

    Full Length proofs now available
    Free trial EPUBS from CircularFLO are restricted to ten pages and are watermarked. However, with version 2.0, any users with an unused credit can now produce an unlimited amount of full length proofs before committing to using their credit.
    Customers with previously purchased credits can use these credits with CircularFLO 2.0.

    CircularFLO 2.0 is available immediately for free download here http://www.circularsoftware.com/download/

    View a sample EPUB created in one click with CircularFLO on your iOS device here http://www.circularsoftware.com/promo/

  15. Seems to me the biggest drawback is that it’s for Mac only. I am desperately trying to figure out how to create a fixed-layout Kindle version of my book to sell on Amazon.com, but there is no way I’m going to go out and buy a Mac and a Mac version of InDesign 5.5 just so I can use this software.

  16. Hi,
    what do you think about the new option “Export for ePub 3.0″ with Indesign 6.0??
    What is the features difference between this new version and Circular FLO?
    Thank you very much for your good work but too much expensive for only one export!…

  17. Valery, “ePub 3.0 with Layout” in CS6 (which is not 6.0…) is experimental, according to Adobe. From reading the What’s New, I think it’s not there quite yet.

    Of course, we’d need a side-by-side view (or possibly an HTML line-by-line comparison) to see who does best.

  18. Hi,
    after a lot of technical test with CircularFlo, all is perfect now, and i’m very happy to use it!
    But i need some help to understand how can i add hyperlinks(www.) and content table with links to specific page?
    I’ve seen the instructions of the application but it is not really clear for me, i think it would be better to see some examples with screen captures.
    Thank you very much for your experience…

    Valéry.

  19. I am trying to understand why you wouldn’t just use pdf if thats all you want to do with fixed page layouts, probably much quicker to create too.

  20. David, it’s because the Apple iBookstore will carry your fixed layout EPUB so you can sell it or distribute it that way, but they won’t do so for PDFs. Frustrating.

    Fixed layout epubs also have the possibility of including word-by-word narration (where the words light up as the narrator reads them), wanted by the purchasers of lots of kids’s books, and the possibility of interactivity, since they support CSS3 and some Javascript that react to touch/tap events. Neither of these things are possible w/PDFs.

  21. Just an update to say things have moved on since this review a few years ago… maybe it’s time for another review?!

    Please visit our website http://circularsoftware.com/ for your free download of CircularFLO v3.5

    New in version CircularFLO v3.5

    • Full IDPF EPUB3 fixed layout compliance (so your EPUB works for Apple, Kobo and Readium too with Google Play support reported to be coming soon)
    • Full Amazon KF8 fixed layout compliance
    • Tappable KF8 mag zones for each paragraph of text now available(this includes both live and embedded text)
    • Double page spreads in KF8 for Kindle Fire now available
    • Double tap zoom and pinch zoom now in KF8 for Kindle Fire now available•
    EPUB3 and KF8 code can be in the same file ready to be converted to KF8 .mobi (although Amazon do accept .epub from larger publishers)
    • A new InDesign FLO Tools panel to help users prepare, style and preview pages in InDesign
    • Add a Boilerplate via FLO Tools to add metadata and make KF8 mag zone styling choices.
    • Make free un-watermarked samples to promote your purchased book
    • Make free updates to your ebooks – use a credit once on a book and then forever be allowed to amend and make unwatermarked updates from the same book and documents
    • Versioning inside the EPUB so iBooks readers get notified of updates automatically by iOS, just like with iOS purchased apps. Users can add a new version number to EPUB when remaking.
    • External poster frames for video now supported
    • Other minor bug fixes and improvements and speed increases
    • EPUB3 validation at part of the process
    • Auto conversion to KF8 available as part of the process (the free ‘Kindlegen’ required)
    • Now compatible with either InDesign CC or InDesign CS6
    • A Mac running InDesign is all that is required. There is no longer a requirement for Photoshop to be present and we no longer link to Growl.

  22. Hi,
    I have used circularflo to make by epub from Indesign – I am not very good with all these softwares (literally just learned how to make the book on indesign with online videos).

    My main problem is that the table of content in the epub appears as text and is not clickable. Since it is a reference text, it is quite impractical. How can make the table of contents clickable in the final epub?

    Is there a simple way or even a long winded way?

    thanks,
    Dibah

  23. Following on from my previous message. On the demo book downloadable from the circularflo website, the table of content is clickable so there must be a way.

  24. I reviewed CircularFLO v3 (and Flipick too) in a recent issue, #56 of InDesign Magazine:
    http://indesignsecrets.com/issues/issue-56-type-issue

    and since then, CircularFLO v4 has been released, I believe. I haven’t had much time to test it though.

    But I do recall that in v3 at least, the program ignores hyperlinks and cross-references created by InDesign. (I talk about this in the review.) You have to make a new layer just for links and drag out text rectangles with the url in them that overlap where people should be able to click.

  25. This article is due an update!

    With CircularFLO v5.1 not only are InDesign CS6 (or later) users able to output to Amazon KF8 but they are also now able to add animation, tap audio, video, live text on a path and read aloud text and image highlighting directly from existing InDesign and with no coding required.

    More information on new features here and training videos at circularflo.com

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