As a writer in the digital age of eBooks, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with a few of the jargon terms and the technologies that affect the aesthetics and performance of your eBook since these will ultimately affect your bottom line. This is true whether you’re in it for fame or fortune. You’ll need to educate yourself with the two types of formatting that are available to you: fixed vs reflowable EPUB. To better utilize their strengths, you first need to know what they are, what their differences are, and how these will affect you.
An eBook with a fixed layout has page elements that do not move whatever the size of the screen you read the eBook on. Each page behaves in much the same way as a physically printed page. Everything is “fixed” on the page, hence the term “fixed layout.”
Since EPUB is one of the main formats used by eBook publishers, sometimes a fixed layout eBook is referred to as a fixed layout EPUB. But, to be more precise, a fixed layout EPUB is an eBook that has a fixed layout in the EPUB format. In this format, a page can have all the interactivity present on the page, but the main feature of this type of format is that all the elements, such as buttons, animation, sound bites, pop-up descriptions, or images are “fixed” in their set positions on the page.
These features are the same for the fixed layout KF8 format, only that KF8 eBooks are formatted using the proprietary KF8 format by Amazon’s Kindle that utilizes the MOBI database.
The other option for eBook formatting is the reflowable eBook. The reflowable eBook “flows” with the size of the screen of the eBook reader. Think of it this way: each element on a reflowable eBook page is not anchored to its position on the page – or it is not “fixed,” hence it “flows” to conform to the available space of the screen. This functionality is available for both EPUB and MOBI formats.
Being movable or being “reflowable” doesn’t interfere with the functionality of each element. A sound bite will still produce a sound when activated, interactive elements will still perform their intended tasks, and visual elements, such as images and animations will still be visible. Sometimes, these elements are even better on a reflowable eBook format as they can be emphasized a bit more since they can be thrust into the foreground.
There is no hard and fast rule regarding which type of book would perform best utilizing a fixed vs reflowable EPUB or other eBook layout. A good idea is to first make a PDF copy of your eBook and to scrutinize this well. Inspect the placement of the pictures, the text wrapping, and the placement of the paragraphs. You need to inspect all the elements and ask yourself, “Does this work?” If you deem your particular book to work in a PDF format, then it’s safe to assume that it will work with a fixed layout.
One type of book that works well with fixed layouts is children’s books. A children’s book may have page elements that are crucial to how the story is perceived, or you as the author, may want to put every element, especially the images and animations, in such a way to create the experience that you want to evoke. The same goes for cook books, travel guides, and any other book that relies heavily on well-placed images.
One element of a page layout that authors may want to control is text wrapping. This is best achieved with a fixed layout. Also, if you’re going for a simple eBook with minimal interactivity that works well with the device’s zoom capabilities, then a fixed layout may be preferable.
Examples of elements that don’t need to be moved at all to be appreciated are graphs, tables, and charts that represent organized data – so, if you’re eBook incorporates these a lot, as in text books, then a fixed layout may work best for your needs.
A fixed layout eBook has more interactive elements than a PDF, so if the writer or publisher wants to embed more interactive elements, then they can do so with fixed layout EPUBs or kf8s. This is because interactivity is inherent to the EPUB and kf8 formats.
PDF eBook formats on the other hand, feel and look a little stiff. A PDF file can be thought of as a digitized version of a physical page, document, or book. Because of this, all elements are fixed, which may cause a hassle to your readers if their eBook devices are small. One limitation of the PDF is the inability to change object attributes, such as the text size. With PDFs, you pretty much need to zoom in to make the words bigger. PDFs also lack interactivity. You can’t embed interactive elements on a PDF the same way that you can on a fixed layout EPUB or kf8.
So, how do you decide to publish your book as a fixed vs reflowable EPUB or other format? This decision will depend mainly on what you want as the author and what you want your readers to experience. You should put yourself in your readers’ shoes and ask yourself, “Does the reflowable format offer more benefits that add value to my eBook or do the flowing elements take away from the experience?”
Fixed layout is ideal for authors who prefer to control the look and experience of each page or each two-page spread. This is especially true if you are going for a visual effect that can only be achieved with a fixed layout. The most common limitation has to do with the fact that the book is not responsive and will not change according to the device it’s displayed on. This may mean that a reader may have to constantly zoom in and out or may have to scroll horizontally to read a page that doesn’t quite fit the device.
Reflowable eBooks, on the other hand, have the benefit of being totally responsive to the device it’s viewed on. This means that the eBook optimizes itself to the size of the screen, making each element easily visible or accessible. An example of an element that works great on a reflowable book are images since images can be easily made larger by tapping on them. One problem with this formatting is that text wrap is not always possible, making control of the aesthetics or visual effect of a page difficult.
You can go to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform to sell your fixed layout eBook. This is where many authors made their fortune with eBooks. Another option is NOOK press, as this is Barnes & Noble’s very own eBook market place which is a direct competitor to Amazon’s KDP. You can also always go for Apple’s iBooks, which allows you to feed into their native iBooks marketplace. Other popular marketplaces where many eBook authors have made their mark in both manner of fame and fortune are Smashwords and KOBO. There are a whole bunch more, but these offer the most significant benefits to you as an author. So, keep on writing and keep on experimenting.