Choosing an eBook format – reflowable or fixed-layout?

The first step in turning your publication into an eBook is to decide which eBook format is most appropriate for your project. There are two main types of eBook – standard/reflowable formats and fixed-layout formats, and it is important to understand both before deciding which format you would like for your book.

Reflowable eBook files (we create mobi and ePub) can be uploaded to all retailers, and will work on the widest number of eReading devices.

Fixed-layout files can be uploaded to most retailers, and the different variations include KF8, Kindle Textbook Creator and Kindle Comics for Amazon, ePub3 (Apple, Google, Kobo, Overdrive and some other channels) and Page Perfect, NOOK Kids and NOOK Comics (Barnes & Noble). These eBooks are designed for devices and apps that can display them properly. So, a fixed layout book may not look as intended if seen on an e-ink reader like the Kindle or Kobo models that are designed to display books that are mostly text.

For most publications it is a very straightforward decision; fiction titles (except highly illustrated children’s books), and non-fiction titles such as biographies, memoirs, historical titles, and business guides, are almost always reflowable formats. Illustrated children’s books, recipe/cookery books, photographic titles and coffee table books are usually produced using fixed-layout eBook formats. However for some books deciding which approach to take can be a more difficult choice as the content may work in either standard or fixed-layout formats.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Amazon has recently started to delist fixed-layout titles in the KF8 format if the text is considered too small (4mm high) when viewed on a Kindle Fire device – view more details. This does not apply to Kindle fixed-layout titles using the Kindle Textbook Creator format.

The information below is aimed at helping you understand the differences between the two approaches and decide which type of eBook is most suitable for your project.

If you would like help or more information please send us your files and we will get back to you asap.

Standard/Reflowable formats

Also known as fluid eBooks, reflowable formats are the most common type of eBook and are suitable for publications that are mainly text and have fairly simple page layout. Virtually all fiction titles and non-fiction such as biographies, business books, memoirs are produced as reflowable formats.

The two most common reflowable eBook formats are:

  • Mobi for Amazon Kindle
  • ePUB for all the other major retail channels and devices including Apple’s iPad and iPhone, B&N’s Nook, Kobo, Google Play and OverDrive.

Examples of reflowable format eBook pages are shown below. You can click on the images to see a larger version (screenshots taken on a Kindle Fire HD):

standard reflowable ebook formatsScreenshot_2014-06-14-16-26-46Screenshot_2014-06-14-16-55-42Screenshot_2014-06-14-15-42-28-1

As you can see in the examples, standard formats can include images (colour and greyscale), embedded fonts, tables, bullet lists and formatted text. However, the appearance of these elements plus more standard features such as font size, will depend upon the device/platform that the eBook is being viewed on, and the personal settings of the person reading the book.

Fixed-layout formats

Fixed-layout eBooks are often used for projects where the page layout is more complicated than a single column of text or where there is a need for absolutely placed content. Common examples of the use of fixed-layout eBooks are for cookery books, company reports, illustrated children’s titles and technical publications.

The most common fixed-layout eBook formats are:

  • KF8 and Kindle Textbook Creator for Amazon Kindle Devices
  • ePUB3 for Apple, Google and Kobo
  • PagePerfect and NOOK Kids for Barnes & Noble.

Not all retail channels accept fixed-layout titles, so if achieving the widest possible distribution of your publication is vital you may be better opting for a standard format approach.

Below are examples of fixed-layout eBook pages captured on an Apple iPad (click on the images for larger versions):

Photo-30-06-2014-13-11-19Photo-30-06-2014-13-09-42

Photo-30-06-2014-13-06-47

Photo-30-06-2014-13-07-24Photo-30-06-2014-13-05-26

The examples display the layout flexibility of fixed-layout formats. Features such as full-bleed graphics, background images, double-page spreads, multi-column text and vertical text are all possible (again dependent upon the device/platform).

Fixed-layout formats give the eBook creators much more control over the layout of each page of the book and unlike standard formats, fixed-layout formats do not give the person reading the file any options to change the fonts, text size, line spacing or margins. On most devices the reader can change from portrait to landscape, single page to two page view, and zoom in or out of the content, but they cannot alter the layout of the content on the page.

Which format is right for you? Comparison of the benefits and limitations

Reflowable Formats

Benefits:

  • Wide distribution opportunities – accepted by most platforms and devices.
  • Gives the reader control over the display of the text*.
  • Usually smaller file sizes so lower Amazon download fees.
  • Usually cheaper to produce.
  • Quicker to update.

Limitations:

  • Only supports simple page layout – no multi-column or absolutely positioned content.
  • Little control over orphans and widows. The reader controls the text size, font, line spacing and margins* so the amount of visible content will differ between devices and from person to person.
  • Limited support for embedding specific fonts.

Fixed-Layout Formats

Benefits:

  • Total control over page layout, so can include:
    • Multi-column content
    • Text positioned over images
    • Coloured backgrounds
    • Full bleed images
    • Double page spreads
  • Excellent support for font embedding*.

Limitations:

  • Restricted distribution opportunities.
  • eBooks not suitable for all devices or apps due to specific styles
  • Larger file sizes, so Amazon download fees may be higher.
  • Readability problems with small content on some devices.
  • Usually more expensive to produce and update.

* Device/software dependent.

Request a quote for your project

If you would like us to quote for converting your files into reflowable or fixed-layout eBook formats please complete our quote request form or send your files to us along with an explanation of the services you require.

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