PDFs, Ebooks and E-readers

One of the ugly secrets of electronic publishing is some electronic book formats are fundamentally incompatible. PDF files are fixed shape with fixed content, so they look just like printed pages, and are used in preparing print books and magazines. E-reader formats (.mobi and e-pub) are fluid in shape, and flow the text to fit on the screener of an e-reader like Kindle. 

The flowing text of e-reader formats lets readers pick a font size that they can read comfortably and fit it onto the cramped screen of a smartphone or the larger screen of an e-reader. They can change the font and/or its size to adjust to different lighting conditions, or when they get tired of reading the same font. It seems like a great idea, and it usually is for books that don't have illustrations.

One problem with illustrations, charts and tables is fitting them onto the screen. Even printed books sometimes wind up with tables printed sideways because they would not fit across the width of the page. E-readers are narrower, so the problem is worse, and gets really hard when someone is reading on a phone. 

Another problem with illustrations is converting a book originally published on paper into e-reader format. The two books have to be formatted completely differently. Today's software makes that easy for all text books if the ebooks are produced at the same time as the print book. Illustrations make it harder because they must be sized and positioned to fit onto different-sized pages, which are fixed in the print book and flowing in the e-reader format. E-reader screens usually are smaller than print books, so many illustrations don't look good, and charts and can get squeezed or hard to read. The more illustrations, and the more complex they are, the messier the results. 

It's even worse when print books are republished, as I have done with Understanding Fiber Optics. The most economical approach is to run the print edition through a high-resolution scanner to produce PDF versions that can be used to produce print-on-demand paper editions, as I have done. It's even less expensive to produce PDF electronic versions, allowing me to sell the PDF version of Understanding Fiber Optics for $9.95 rather than the $39 of the print edition. However, trying to produce an e-reader edition would require redoing the entire page layout process, and would not be able to handle many of the large illustrations in the book. It would also cost far too much for me to produce the inexpensive edition edition I can using PDF. 

© Jeff Hecht 2019