A couple of months ago Adobe launched InDesign CC 2014. Among its new features is the ability to export your documents as fixed-format ePub 3. This is really rather exciting. Prior to this update you either had to go to a specialist conversion company or pretty much hand code files. Either way it was a palaver and often an expensive palaver at that. I’ve been using a very good conversion script (ePub Crawler) for the past year (and will continue to use it for some projects), but this is something else! I’ve just got around to having a proper look at this new capability and I’m impressed. InDesign CC 2014 can now export valid ePub 3 fixed-format ebooks as quickly and easily as exporting a PDF. Barring a few minor issues and things-to-watch-out-for, the resulting file will be identical to the InDesign book file.
What is a fixed-format ebook?
Fixed-format ebooks reproduce what is on the printed page (like a PDF). The text is live and can be selected, searched, defined and read aloud (depending on ePub-reader software capabilities). The new InDesign export places all of the page elements exactly as they are in InDesign and each word is dealt with individually, so your line endings and spacing remain intact. (It also means that if you crack open the ePub files and look at the HTML it looks like the stuff of nightmares, but that’s another story.)
Currently Apple iBooks is the only platform that really has full support for all ePub 3 has to offer, however other retailers are following (I’ve had some success with opening the resulting files in Kobo apps, for example. They will also open in Google Chrome with the free Readium extension installed and I’m pretty sure they’d be fine on Google Play.) But I have spoken to some people who are still very dismissive about fixed-format ePub – there’s just not enough support on other platforms, why would you want to, isn’t it just easier to convert to PDF? Well, yes – but Apple don’t sell PDFs (nor do any other major ebook retailers to my knowledge) so if you want to sell a PDF book you’ll have limited places to sell it. And – did I mention? – if your book is set up correctly export is no more time-consuming than exporting to PDF. So you can still export to PDF if you want to and export a version you can at least sell on Apple iBooks for very little additional outlay – probably less than the cost of getting a proof copy printed.
Fixed-format conversion is most suitable for:
✔ Children’s picture books
✔ Photo books
✔ Highly designed and illustrated non fiction and reference
✔ ‘Coffee table’ books
✔ Cookery books (and other instructional books)
✔ Any book where it is important to keep the design and layout intact
✔ Prospectuses or catalogues
So who would benefit from this?
✔ Publishers and self-publishers wanting to release backlist titles quickly and cost effectively
✔ Publishers and self-publishers creating new titles in the above fields. If new titles are designed with an eye to exporting to ePub on completion, the convertion is very quick and pain free.
✔ Photographers and artists (Photo books, portfolios and ePub albums for wedding clients, for example)
✔ Bands and other performers (tour books, blogs, programmes, etc)
✔ Organisations and retailers who would benefit from conversion of prospectuses and catalogues, internal and external training materials, etc, to ePub to allow them to be read on a wider range of apps and devices
I’ve incorporated fixed-format ePub into the range of typesetting, layout, editorial and conversion services I offer. I don’t give flat-fee prices at the moment because every project is different.
✔ Convert your final InDesign files to fixed-format ePub more cheaply and quickly than I used to be able to offer. (If your files are suitable this takes the same time as saving to PDF.)
✔ Place video and audio prior to conversion
✔ Assess your files’ suitability and make font substitutions and layout tweaks prior to conversion
✔ Re-set and layout (from old backlist, etc)
✔ Set up new titles from scratch
I’ve set up a couple of 30-ish-page sample books. One is the full text of The Sleeping Beauty Picture Book, illustrated by Walter Crane and the other is a section of The Candy Maker’s Guide, a recipe book first published in 1896 by a manufacturer of confectionary and baking equipment. (Both public domain texts – the photos are mine.)
Here are some screen grabs from Sleeping Beauty:
Note the overlapping text on the headings. The text is still live.
This one has a path around the image of the girl on the left. Every word is in exactly the same position as in the InDesign file. (You might have noticed the overflowing text box below. InDesign will not warn you of text overflow on export – it just assumes it’s what you want.)
Now here are some screen grabs from the sweets book:
Again we’ve got a clipping path around the sweet jar and I put a feather on it (the path is rough, I know – but the point is that it is exactly as it was.)
Here’s a spread showing a mixed single- and two-column layout and images with transparency.
You can set the ePub up so that it displays a table of contents as thumbnails like this, or if you set up a table-of-contents style, you can have it display a multi-level toc in words.
This shows looking up ‘live’ words in the built-in dictionary.
So what can’t you have?
✘ Hyperlinks in text or internal links
✘ Live text that is horizontally or vertically scaled, or kerned
✘ Live text with strokes, gradient fills, drop shadows etc.
✘ Live text on a path (text will flatten on conversion)
✘ Gradients (this can be overcome by flattening to jpg first)
✘ This conversion process is not suitable for adding audio with read-along text highlighting
✘ Postscript fonts
(Adobe are still working on enhancing the export, so some of these issues will be overcome soon.)
Backlist conversion and fonts
The major issue when converting InDesign documents is fonts. Many publishers are still using (or used to use) Postscript files. These won’t work in ebooks, so if your books contain Postscript fonts they will have to be replaced with Truetype or Opentype fonts. Many common fonts have Truetype or Opentype versions, but more obscure fonts might have to be replaced with similar fonts. It’s also important to make sure your fonts are licensed for ebook use. They often aren’t. Ideally new titles should be designed using correctly licensed Truetype or Opentype fonts.
You can also add video and audio if you so desire – obviously if you are converting a print book you might have to make some design tweaks to make room for the media. Video and audio can be placed directly to the InDesign file. You don’t have any choice over the video/audio controls’ appearance (but I believe you can edit the css if it really bothers you.) There is also support to link to Youtube etc if you don’t want to embed your media.
Here are a couple of screen grabs from a small test file I made.
A note about tracking
I was asked about tracking text. The screen grabs below show text tracked backwards and forwards.
Hi there! Thank you for the walk-through and the samples. I have a question about the text overflow, and what tools (if any) exist to get around it? You write: “(You might have noticed the overflowing text box below. InDesign will not warn you of text overflow on export – it just assumes it’s what you want.)”
But of course, that’s not what you’d want; the line cuts out a few words ending with the rhyme (I predict) “…pride.” With a non-reflowable book, especially for a poetry book, it’s important that the rhyme hit on that page, not flow to a different page or vanish entirely. On a print book, I could change spacing and even tracking to keep all the words on the page. My understanding is that InDesign’s FXL export doesn’t recognize or pass along tracking changes; each word is its default length in pixels. So, would we have any good options here?
Thank you again for the information and the examples.
Hi. Glad the info is useful. What I meant by text overflow was that I had (accidentally) left some text overflowing in the InDesign document – I simply hadn’t made my text box big enough. My point here was that, unlike in some other types of export, when you export to fixed format it won’t warn you that there is text overflow. So you should either use the preflight function or visually check that your text is where you want it to be.
But this is a little different to your concern I think. You can track text. I’ve just tested this by tracking a sentence to -40 so that a word went back to a previous line and making the next line track to +110. It was not absolutely pixel perfect, but pretty close and critially it is not lost nor does it move back to where it was pre-tracking. You can’t kern text or change the text scaling. But you shouldn’t need to do this in body text anyway.
I’ve just taken a couple of screen grabs to show the tracked text. I’ll add them to the post.
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