Valuable Fixed Layout eBook Resources

There has been a lot of discussion on InDesignSecrets about creating flowable eBook files (EPUB and Kindle) from InDesign. But there has been not so much about a newer development?creating fixed layout eBooks. Some books don’t work well when pages reflow differently on different devices and screen sizes. Examples would be more complex publications with a design requiring precise placement of images, text, sidebars, tables, and so on. These might be found in textbooks, children’s books, and art books, for example.

There are different ways fixed layout eBooks can be created. The traditional way is to create a PDF file, which does an excellent job of preserving the exact appearance, geometry, and fonts from an original print book. However, PDF files can’t be sold on eBook bookstores, and they don’t do as well when viewed on tablets and smartphones. A second way is using an image to preserve the page, including publishing systems which create tablets apps (for example, Adobe’s Folio format for the Digital Publishing System and WoodWing’s OFIP format).

The third way is an EPUB Fixed Layout. Apple pioneered this with their proprietary “Apple Fixed Layout” in iBooks. And that format has been adapted in various ways by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)?the organization that controls the EPUB standards?to  place content using background images and absolutely positioned text box overlays. The problem is that there are competing ways the EPUB eBooks can be produced, and different EPUB readers have somewhat different requirements.

Digital formats for fixed layout is a fast changing and somewhat confusing area, and I just found an excellent and up-to-date resource which describes the current status of the formats which are currently being developed. It’s called Field Guide to Fixed Layout for E-Books, and it’s available as a free download in PDF or EPUB formats from the Book Industry Study Group. It was published in February 2013, and it promises to be updated regularly as the subject changes and evolves.

Field Guide to Fixed Layout for E-Books

Field Guide to Fixed Layout for E-Books

The book is a well-balanced overview of the subject, and it’s appropriate to help book producers  and publishers decide when a fixed layout format is appropriate and when it is not. It discusses the technical fundamentals of how to create a Fixed Layout EPUB file. It talks about how such an approach might be a hindrance to accessibility. It covers differences between the current crop of eBook devices and platforms in how they handle fixed layout eBooks. I highly recommend it.

Here are some other resources I’ve found valuable:

  • Anne-Marie’s Lynda.com video “Creating a Fixed-Layout EPUB” is a great step-by-step tutorial in how to create a Fixed Layout EPUB for iBooks, and includes many demos of how to speed up the process using InDesign features and scripts.
  • ePubCrawler is a InDesign to Fixed Layout EPUB converter from our friends at Rorohiko. It is donation-ware, and is still in development. It’s flexible and can be configured to generate a range of possible Fixed Layout EPUB variations. I haven’t used it, but feedback I’ve heard is that its a great timesaver.

And I’m very much looking forward to attending the upcoming PePcon, the Publishing and ePublishing Conference, in Austin, Texas that InDesignSecrets is organizing. This is a great place to get yourself up-to-speed on the latest developments in creating eBooks, including fixed layout formats. I hope to see you there!

Please add other resources which you’ve found valuable in understanding and creating fixed layout eBooks in the comments on this posting.

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