Interactive ePub or Interactive PDF?

When you have a book you wish to distribute to your own members or subscribers, and the content is complex or heavy, it may be appealing to consider ways of making it more interactive.

Let's say you have a book designed on A4 pages with about 50% in columns of text and 50% images and very detailed graphs.

The first thing to consider is whether you should KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Maybe you should leave it in PDF. PDF supports a range of interactivity these days including hyperlinks, forms, audio and video. If anything, it is more friendly to interactivity that will work on a desktop PC than enhanced ePub is. Some of the best enhancements you can do in ePub (around forms, for example) will only work on Apple devices, because they support JavaScript.

If you want your ebook to be user-friendly on tablets then even a PDF can be resized (re-designed) so that the page is the same size as a tablet, rather than the inappropriate A4 page size.

Both PDF and epub have bookmarks that essentially mean your chapter headings (or any sections that you like) can have a little thumbnail visible in a table of contents, that can be accessed from any part of the ebook. In reflowing ebooks the table of contents (TOC) is part of the standard coding and comes up after a button press, usually at the top of the app with three little dots and three lines.

If you want a TOC that is pressable throughout the entire book, you're in luck. That is essentially a default feature in reflowing ebooks. As for fixed layout ebooks, people can press on thumbnails of any page down the bottom, in most apps. So this applies to not just the TOC page, but all of the pages.

Audio interactive ebooks
As for audio, this is something that we could arrange: voice over recording of your text, then media overlay so that as the words are read out, they are highlighted in the ebook. We can also add sound effects, but obviously only devices and apps that support and play audio will be able to play and use these features.

Page Layout for interactive ebooks
For a fixed layout epub for an A4 book, we would need to redesign it so the pages are the size of an iPad. Even then, the ebook would still need to be zoomed in, by users, on phones. It would be useful to know more about your readers and the software, apps and devices they're likely to use, and whether you can recommend tablets for use of this ebook or not. Desktop ebook readers are notoriously slack, and I am not aware of one that does a good job. Adobe Digital Editions, for example, cannot even zoom in.

This rules out an A4 book with lots of detailed graphics for desktop e-readers, as your readers simply have to be able to zoom in to read such graphics.

The fact that ebooks on devices can zoom in is a very useful feature for ebooks with large, detailed graphics, but the same cannot be said for viewing ebooks on computer screens. Sure, the screen is bigger, but even then we have encountered images and graphs that are so vast that they are not readable when viewed in desktop ebook apps (which unhelpfully split every ebook into a left and right page, even a reflowing, meaning you only ever have up to half the screen width for your pics). And, as they physically cannot zoom in, you're left with no option but to break up the images, just to make them readable.

We recently worked on an ebook with extremely large maps, with tiny text that needed to be readable when zoomed in on ebook devices. So it is possible. We can manage all this for you, but it may require some patience and backwards and forwards on your part.

Distributing an interactive ebook
Maybe you want to have the files held on your secure website for your users to download free of charge. This presents a problem for your users if you choose epub, and especially for enhanced epub. Please see my FAQ here:

How do I sell ebooks on my website?

We have to develop for the platform where it will be sold (or given away). This is not all about the devices and apps, but about the vendor. If you're giving it away to your existing subscribers, it really does beg the question of why not just use PDF?

With hundreds of potential devices or apps your users might be using, it is very likely some will not be able to use an enhanced epub (or epub at all). They may struggle with side-loading for one thing, which is not usually such an issue for PDF as people are more used to it and tend to have apps already for opening PDF.

Before you request a quote, please make sure an enhanced ebook is the right path for you. If you're not sure, please feel free to contact us. We do not charge for the first half hour. However, if you need more personalised advice and detail we can offer you publishing consultation.

Please let us know what we can do to help with your interactive ebook project. We can design and develop PDF, ePub, mobi, KF8 and more.

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