ePUB is one of the most widely used file formats for eBooks. Before you turn your manuscript or PDF into an eBook, you need to decide which layout would be appropriate for your content. A layout is the design and placement of the various elements in your eBook.
eBooks can be read in landscape or portrait mode. The orientation of the reading device depends on the user’s preference, but the flow or layout of the content is something that’s decided by the author or the publisher. There are mainly two types of layouts in eBooks- Reflowable layout and Fixed layout ePUB.
The earlier version of ePUB could only convert eBooks into one standard layout- the reflowable format. The new ePUB3 version has brought a fixed layout into the picture. Publishers and authors now have to decide which format to choose at the time of conversion, based on the kind of content.
What is Reflowable Layout ePUB?
In reflowable layout, all the contents of the page adjust orientation to fit into any screen size. It is flexible and easily adapts to different mobile devices. Hence, it is the standard layout for most eBooks.
What is Fixed Layout ePUB?
In a fixed layout format, the content on the page remains static. Sometimes, it is necessary to keep the content and design at defined places on a particular page. Changing the alignment could either change the flow of reading or change the meaning of the content.
Let’s compare the two to understand the differences between both these eBook layouts.
Readability of Content
In a reflowable layout, the text will always perfectly fit your screen. While reading, the user does not have to keep adjusting the page, providing a comfortable reading experience. This layout is used for text-heavy books, such as novels.
In a fixed layout ePUB, the contents of the page slide off the edge of the screen. It’s like a printed book. The size and position of the pictures and text must remain constant. Text and images are paginated and they don’t change no matter how big or small the screen size is. The user has to scroll and zoom, in order to read it comfortably.
Ability to Change Fonts
In reflowable layout, when you increase or decrease the font size, the line break changes and the rest of the text aligns itself accordingly. The freedom to change the font style and size lets the lines of text to expand and reflow.
Fixed layout ePUB does not allow the user to change font and text size. The user will have to zoom in and out, and scroll left and right to read the content. This type of content is not suitable for small screens. In a fixed layout ePUB, authors must ensure that they choose an easily readable font and keep the font size reasonably large so that users don’t have to strain their eyes.
The reflowable layout is accepted by most ebook readers like Kindle, Apple iBooks, Nook and Kobo. Since ePUB is the standard format for eBook conversions and is openly available, it is supported by a lot of reader devices.
Some of the devices do not support fixed layout. For example, Amazon accepts fixed layout only for children’s illustrated books. At the moment, very few readers support the fixed layout in comparison to a reflowable layout.
Suitable for Different Types of Books
The reflowable ePUB format is mainly suited for text-only eBooks such as novels, fiction, non-fiction books, and books that does not have a lot of images or graphics. Since these books consist a lot of text content, they can be designed to realign as per different screen sizes. It gives the user a better reading experience.
Fixed layout is more suited for eBooks with a lot of images, graphs or charts. For example, illustrated children’s books, cookbooks, coffee-table books, graphic novels, comics, technical manuals. These books need to have a specific placement and pagination for the texts and images, hence fixed layout is more suited for picture-heavy books. Since the placement of the content does not change, it is possible to add multi-column content. One can include double-page spreads and colored backgrounds as well.
Novels and fiction books rarely have any images or graphics in them. So reflowable eBooks do not have any interactive features apart from the zoom, search and highlight options.
Fixed layout eBooks, on the other hand, have additional interactivities. One can include animations and videos in a fixed layout eBook. The text to speech feature can be added for users to listen to the eBook, this feature also helps people with visual impairment or a reading disability.
Final Look of the eBook
In a standard layout, the author can’t really predict how the eBook would look like on the user’s screen, unless he wants it published and tested on all possible devices before making it available for the user. The look of the page, the alignment of texts etc., might change depending upon the size and orientation of the user’s device.
In a fixed layout, the author has full control over how he wants the finished product to look. The author can decide the final alignment of the contents of the page. The author has complete control over the design and layout of every page, since the placement of the contents would not change irrespective of the device and screen size they are read upon.
Most of the operating platforms and devices support the reflowable layout. Hence, you would find that a majority of eBooks are designed and distributed in this format. Hence, eBooks with a reflowable layout has more distribution and a far wider reach.
Fixed layout ePUB does not have many takers as of today. But as ePUB develops, it is expected to gain more popularity and readership.
Reflowable layout costs less than the fixed layout ePUB because they are usually cheaper to produce. ePUB supports reflowable layout, so one just has to convert the file into a responsive and reflowable ePUB format.
Whereas fixed layout eBooks are costly because there’s a lot more process involved in its creation. They have designers, animators and graphics people who work on creating an interactive eBook. This takes up more time than simply converting a PDF to eBook and it adds up to the cost of production.
Based on the type of content, the author must decide which layout he wants his eBook to be published in. The main differentiating factor is that reflowable content changes its placement according to different screen sizes; while the fixed layout content does not. So, if the author has a PDF or a manuscript which mainly consists of text, it’s better to go for a reflowable format. And if there are a lot of images and designs, a fixed layout ePUB will be more appropriate.