Multi-Platform Publishing Workflow and techniques for designing, creating and publishing for page and device

Status of this page: expandVersion: 0.6| October 20, 2018

Chapter 2 - Publishers’ Choices

I’m a Publisher, what kind of eBooks should I make?

And the answer is: well that depends on all sorts of things.

Let’s go through the options and dependancies.

What kinds of eBooks are possible?

We can go into the details of these formats later but in this section we can just list the types and some of the basic attributes.

PDF (Portable Document Format)

Here is a format that many will already use. PDF was invented by Adobe Systems but the format is open and anyone can create an application to display the PDF. The great thing about the PDF is that it can display the various components of a page with graphics, text and fonts all embedded in the same file. This is what makes it easy to distribute, because everything is contained inside one file.

Although the PDF is used to capture print-ready information and is most often used as the final stage in publishing for print, it can also include interactive navigational components and be used as a means to deliver screen based materials. In fact the PDF can be a very sophisticated eBook with animations, multimedia and even javascript that can provide some transitions and menu delivery.

Problems with the PDF as an eBook include the fact that tablets and eInk devices don’t have appropriate software to make use of these extra interactive features. Selling PDF eBooks through the main vendor’s ecosystems (Apple, Amazon etc.) is also not possible. PDFs can be delivered (and often are) through publisher’s web sites, but adding DRM (Digital Rights Management) is expensive.


The first version of the ePub standard was released by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) in 2007. The IDPF is a consortium of organisations and individuals. The standard is open and anyone can create software that will read and display the ePub.

The specification was originally in use as version 2 (ePub2) and in this release books could only be re-flowable with text not formatted as is for print but more like a web page; flowing to fit the size of the device or window.

In 2014 the ePub3 version was released and now includes the ability for content to arranged as ‘fixed’ or precise layout. This new format also can include ‘overlays’ to deliver javascript, multimedia and animation.

In the latest version of the format ePub3, we have 2 available modes; the re-flowable and the fixed-layout forms. They are different in the amount of display control that they leave to the user/reader. Within a re-flowable eBook, the user may change the font size, the typeface and (on some devices), display features such as leading, alignment, justification and hyphenation. On the other hand, the fixed-layout form removes any such flexibility, and the page designer can arrange text and image on each page and be sure that this is how it will remain. The fixed-layout form is the friend to the graphic designer; the re-flowable form provides more accessibility for the user.

So, in summary, the ePub can either be used to deliver re-flowable or fixed-layout content.

The ePub file can be converted to the Kindle mobi format (see below), and Amazon make available tools to make this conversion relatively painless1. A good publishing strategy is to create for the ePub format first and then convert to the Kindle format from your validated ePub file. This is the best way you get the best of both worlds because you can test on the devices before release. On the other hand, Amazon will convert the ePub for you when you submit the ePub to them, however, you will not see the Kindle version until it is already on the Amazon Kindle store.

Kindle Formats

I am separating these formats out because they are specific to the Amazon family of products such as the Kindle eInk reader.

The MOBI format used on the eInk devices is based on the original format used on PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) such as the Palm Pilot. Amazon took over this format in 2005 and have further developed the specification to include a the KF8 format; targeting the Kindle tablets, such as the Kindle Fire, which can display fixed format and media rich eBooks.

The Kindle formats are not an open (public) formats and no devices other than the Amazon family can use the format.

Apple’s Multi-touch eBook format

This format of eBook can only be created with Apple’s free software; iBooks Author.

This is a proprietary format, only viewable on Apple devices (iPad or MAC) and is more difficult to define. It is a package of files in a container that has similar characteristics to the ePub, but post editing the contents is not recommended! The iBook format can be read on the iPad’s iBooks app or on a MAC with iBooks.

General Summary

It is very difficult to advise anyone which is the best approach for publishing eBooks, because it will depend on so many variables. For what it’s worth though, here are my 3 points that you should consider:

A summary of decisions to be made

OK, let’s now try to build a list of the choices

The Overview Choice

Book / eBook

Page size


Page Margins

Table of Contents





Images / interactive

Images / captions


Post Editing

Post Editing
 - Front matter

InDesign recommendations

Checking the ePub

Conversion to Kindle

Conversion to Apple Multi-touch book

  1. Converting a re-flowable ePub to the mobi format for the Amazon Kindle is more successful than the fixed-layout format.