Navigating the Digital Publishing Landscape – Choosing Your Format
This is part-two of my 2 part crash course on digital publishing. You’ve already got a basic understanding of the digital publishing landscape (If not check out part-one which gives a good overview of digital publishing including: emerging trends, distribution channels and different formats your content can take). Now I’ll extend your knowledge of digital publishing and give you the tools and knowhow to decide which formats to target on your next ebook project.
Ebooks come in as many flavors as there are devices to read them. Devices include the: iPad, Kindle, Nook, Nexus, etc. and each have their own proprietary formats for packaging and distributing content. I won’t be focusing on every single proprietary format, but instead give a good overview of the characteristics and distribution channels of each major format. As you’ll see, some formats are supported across many devices and converting your ebook into proprietary formats for multiple devices is a feasible option for many projects.
How to choose a digital publishing format
Know your content, target audience, and budget. Knowing your content and target audience is key to selecting a format. A good understanding of your content and audience will help guide questions such as:
- Is layout and design a key consideration for my message?
- Does it make sense to release content in issues such as a quarterly ‘magazine’ style publication?
- What devices do my audience members own and consume content on?
Knowing your budget is also vital in choosing a format. Options like branded ebook apps may be prohibitively expensive. Your budget may permit you to choose multiple formats or target multiple distribution channels.
Decide on your features and distribution channels. An understanding of your content and target audience helps inform the decision of which features and distribution channels best fit your needs. Each publishing format comes with it’s own list of features. There is some overlap in features and distribution channels, but the limitations help to balance the scales and make deciding a lot easier.
Comparing Digital Publishing Formats
Using the same technology as a basic webpage, EPUB’s are a widely used, open (no single company ‘owns’ the format), ebook format. Basic ePubs don’t have much in terms of looks as the capabilities for styling is dependent on the multitude of end devices that will read them. Things like custom fonts and colors aren’t supported on every end device. The EPUB’s strongest feature is the ability to reflow text which makes it easy to read content on any size of screen. This makes the EPUB chief for functionality rather than form. Images are supported but if complete design control is something you want, you better look elsewhere.
Characteristics & Features
- Reflowing text allows for readability features like changing the font size. It also makes for very versatile ebooks – content simply takes up the available space on the screen.
- Interactivity is limited and supported differently among devices. No doubt there is lots of room and experimentation, but given that the EPUB was made primarily for basic, reflow-able, mostly-text publications… why bother?
- Wide device support: computer, tablet, and smart phones
- Low cost to produce. Since the technology is that of a basic webpage, and room for design is limited, EPUB’s are one of the cheapest ebook formats to make.
- Believe it or not, basic EPUB’s can include embedded images, audio, and video.
- ebook sites
- major marketplaces
The PDF is exceedingly cheap to make, widely utilized across devices, and since they’re basically multi-page images the design can be as sophisticated as you want. The catch is that PDF’s are meant mainly for computer screens – PDF’s become cumbersome or unusable on smaller screen sizes. The PDF format is so widely supported that most writing or designing software allows you to export directly to the PDF format – as you probably already know because you’ve used a computer in the last ten years.
Characteristics & Features
- Wide device support: computer, tablet, or smart phone (use at your own risk).
- device independent (across browsers)
- Free to produce and share.
- Includes multi-media (less utilized).
- Ebook sites
Originally designed by Apple (though really a no brainer or natural evolution of the EPUB format), the fixed-layout EPUB is a special kind of EPUB that has enhanced design control and capabilities. Support for full-bleed images and overlapping text and images lets visual rich content come to life on newer screen-reader devices like the iPad. These design capabilities come at the cost of device support and the ability to reflow text.
- Limited device support: previously only Apple products such as the iPad and iPhone (use at your own risk), but has now expanded to support other devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Google Nexus
- Fixed-layout. Greater control over design. Preferable when layout is important to the message.
- Medium cost. They take more time and resources than a normal EPUB to develop.
- The same multi-media capabilities of regular EPUBS and PDFs with the benefit of better control over their presentation.
- Apple iBook store. Given the popularity of the iPad, this may likely be your first stop for fixed-layout pubs.
- Kindle store
- Google Play store.
The leading choice for interactivity, and deal-breaking features like multi-issue publications, eBook Apps are the leading choice for completely branded, designed, experiences on tablet and smart phones. Ebook Apps have taken the digital publishing world by storm, but aren’t available for everyone. Apps are costly to develop. Multi-issue apps require yearly budget commitments on top of the costs for design and development. Characteristics & Features
- Limited device support: tablets or smart phones.
- Fixed-layout. Ultimate design control.
- Supports features such as multi-issue publications and subscriptions.
- High cost of development.
- Advanced interactivity and scripting capabilities.
- Tablet and smart phone stores.
No one format encompasses all the features of digital publishing. Each format comes with it’s own benefits and limitations. Choosing a digital publishing format for your project should come with careful consideration of your content, target audience, budget, desired features, and desire distribution channels. You may decide that you are able to publish in multiple formats for your project such as PDF and Fixed Layout. It’s important to remember that each end device may have it’s own special formatting requirements for ebooks. To a skilled publisher or conversion house these changes may be trivial, but they still involve extra cost and time commitment.
Determining which ebook format will work for your project begins at an understanding of your content and target audience, leads to deciding on features and distribution channels, and hinges on an understanding of the wide array of ebook formats out there to choose from.