On ePub, or Why Our Buyers’ Guides Aren’t Coming To iBooks | iLounge Backstage


On ePub, or Why Our Buyers’ Guides Aren’t Coming To iBooks

A couple of readers wrote to ask us why we hadn’t published the iPad Buyers’ Guide + iPod/iPhone Book 5 as an ePub download for iBooks. Even though the answer seemed pretty obvious on this end, I wanted to post these shots to give readers a sense of what happens when someone outputs a 150-page PDF-format book or magazine as an ePub document.

The result is between 220 to 328 “pages” long at the minimum font size depending on how you hold the iPad, while missing many of its graphics and all of its original layout. It doesn’t look, feel, or read anywhere near as well as the Book does as originally designed—it’s a glorified text file—and under the best circumstances, there’s a lot of unnecessary extra page flipping to be done, while losing the ability to zoom in on pictures.


If Apple does what really needs to be done to “save traditional media”—namely, to create a universal framework for publishing next-generation newspapers and magazines, complete with easy UI features and a proper development backend for publishers—we’ll be thrilled to offer our publications in that format. But for the time being, PDF is an extremely usable format that allows us to deliver most of the experience we want across multiple platforms. For free. We’ve discussed the idea of turning our Books and Guides into apps, offsetting the added development costs with a small charge, but haven’t done so for a number of reasons. By comparison, ePub strikes us as a huge step backwards for publications like ours, with no benefits apart from iBookstore distribution, and we’d rather give up that added distribution than put out something that looks like this in iBooks. We’d sooner spend any necessary additional development and reformatting work on a more powerful application than on a stripped-down text file. Your thoughts and insights on the topic would be welcome.

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So what does this prove.  That a page formated document in pdf doesn’t look good as a page-less formatted document.

If it was authored as an epub document then things would look much better.  There is still going to be a debate over formatting which is better.  obviously when the output is a normal printed 8.5x11 page then you can probably do more formatting.

Your conversion didn’t clean up photos, table of contents tagging, font issues, etc. 

PDF and EPUB are two different things and they need to be treated that way when the document is created.  I love epub because to will adjust to any size screen very well.  Try looking at your pdf file on the iphone.  It would not be a lot of fun.

Posted by Oh Brother!! on June 3, 2010 at 4:24 PM (CDT)


Looks like more of a problem with your composition software (Adobe InDesign CS4?) than with ePub. There are plenty of ePub-formatted ebooks that look fine. (See Winnie the Pooh, for example.)

Posted by Stephen Thomas on June 3, 2010 at 4:32 PM (CDT)


#1: You might have missed the whole “it would take a lot of work to reformat the Book for ePub” part, so I’ll just re-quote it here:

“We’d sooner spend any necessary additional development and reformatting work on a more powerful application than on a stripped-down text file.”

Re: the PDF on the iPhone, we’ve been offering our publications as PDFs for iPhone and iPod touch since 2007, and actually redesigned them with font sizes that would be legible on the 3.5” displays.

#2: Winnie the Pooh still looks like a glorified text file. It just happens to have big pictures.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 3, 2010 at 4:35 PM (CDT)


When the iPad came out, I investigated the possibility of doing an ePub version for the device, but ePub is pretty limited and isn’t very well suited to translate something that’s so photo-intensive.

I’d rather not do a straight-to-PDF version for the iPad and the Wired magazine iPad version, though impressive, isn’t feasible for a number of reasons, including how time-, labor-, and resource-intensive it would be on the production end, plus how massive the file was on the user end.

The bottom line is we don’t have the photographers, videographers, programmers, and fiscal resources to create something along the lines of what Wired did.

I agree with iLounge that there needs to be some kind of universal framework devised to bring magazines to the iPad. Adobe this week announced some authoring tools, which I will be excited to check out.

Posted by cxc273 on June 3, 2010 at 4:42 PM (CDT)


epub is a fine format when *form doesn’t matter*.  Most novels easily fall into this category.  For something like iLounge’s buyer’s guides or a coffee table art book, where layout matters, epub is clearly insufficient.  There absolutely needs to be an open format for highly-formatted documents, and iBooks needs to support it.

Posted by didymos! on June 3, 2010 at 4:43 PM (CDT)


Oh, and just to clarify, I serve as editor for an alumni magazine at a U.S. university. I’d love to see an iPad version of what we do!

Posted by cxc273 on June 3, 2010 at 4:45 PM (CDT)


Thank you for the article, Jeremy. This is really interesting, and I will be following the new Adobe publishing tools with great interest for this very interest. I downloaded one of MacWorld’s ePub guides, and while it has fewer pictures and the layout is generally better, it still does feel quite primitive. I think a stripped-down text file is a good way to put it.

Posted by Sterlingz on June 4, 2010 at 12:49 PM (CDT)


The solution is simple, really, but unfortunately, it’s all on Apple. What is desperately needed is for the iBooks application and iBookstore to fully support and sell pre-formatted PDF files as an alternative to ePub for those publications which require it. (#4 is absolutely right). They can keep the fancy page-turn animations, page skimming, bookmark synchronization, and other things that make iBooks so charming, but take away the flowing text, font, and font-size options, and instead enable tap-to-zoom-to-content-columns just like in Safari.

I actually had this thought this morning as I was realizing how much less-compelling Craig Hockenberry’s iPhone development book is as an ePub than it is as a typeset, formatted PDF.

I hope it will become a reality. My guess is that this will eventually have to if Apple wants to convince publishers of technical books, textbooks, etc. that the iBookstore is a viable venue for their content.

Posted by Jerrod H. in TX on June 4, 2010 at 8:43 PM (CDT)


Looks like it’s coming to iBooks now :) Time to update the article!!!

Posted by CW on June 8, 2010 at 5:00 PM (CDT)


#9: Sorta yes, sorta no. As it turns out, Apple has apparently closed the iBookstore to any non-ePub publications, so although the upcoming release of iBooks will display PDFs, it won’t be possible to download PDFs through the iBookstore. Hopefully this will change soon. In any case, our publications should be readable through iBooks’ new PDF viewer.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 9, 2010 at 2:38 PM (CDT)

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