Kindle on an open notebook.

Why Do E-books Look Different From Print Books?

You may have noticed that whenever you read an e-book the layout of the pages is slightly different from a print book or a PDF. It might be that the images are not in the same place or that the table of contents does not have page numbers. Have you ever wondered why this happens?

In this blog post, I will explain the reasons behind e-books looking different from print books. I hope to make you understand what an e-book is and what designing one implies. And maybe next time someone complains about something in their e-book, you will be able to find the reasons behind the designer making certain decisions.

Before going into the specifics, though, let’s start from the basics. An e-book, as defined by Merriam Webster, is “a book composed in or converted to digital format for display on a computer screen or a handheld device.” In the book production process, both the print book and the e-book are generated from the same file, which is the finished manuscript with its final interior design. The difference is that to generate an e-book the file is slightly modified. But why is the final version of the book modified? It is important to keep in mind that a print book and an e-book are completely different, mainly because of how the final product looks and how it will be read by the readers. Therefore, the goals when creating the final file are different.

For a print book, the result is a static document, usually a PDF, that will be printed to become a book. This product is considered to be a fixed format because it cannot be modified by the readers. Any reader will see the same layout, font family and size, page numbers, margins, and spacings, for instance. The publisher has complete control of how the final book will look like and how the readers will see the pages when reading the book. Therefore, the goal when creating the print book is to end up with something aesthetic and well-designed.

On the contrary, for an e-book, the result is a flexible file that will be downloaded and read on different devices. Readers might be using a computer, a tablet, a phone, or an e-reader to open their e-book. Because of the variety of devices and their different sizes, e-books are designed to change and adapt to various interfaces. Differently than with print books, publishers lose the ability to control the final appearance (font family and size, widows and orphans . . .) and aim, instead, to create files that are as flexible as possible, in other words, that can be properly seen and read on any device. Because of its flexibility, readers win control over their reading experience and how they want their text to look. They can change the font family, the font size, and the background color.

As we have seen until now, the reason why the e-book looks different from the print book is that e-books are specifically designed to be flexible and adapt to different devices. This is their goal when being created. In order to accomplish the final result, the focus when working on building an e-book is different than when designing a print book, and it lies on the following elements:

    Making sure that everything appears in the correct order (titles, paragraphs, images, tables, footnotes, etc).
    Deleting print references, such as page numbers and references to page numbers.
    Placing and anchoring images to the place where they should appear, which is usually as close to the print version as possible. And resizing them along with the text.
    Adding hyperlinks. This can be a good technique to replace page numbers. It can be used in the table of contents, but also in page references throughout the text.

All in all, the layout of an e-book is different from the layout of a print book because they are designed with different goals and perspectives. When designing a print book there is a lot of attention to the appearance, which is completely fixed. In contrast, when designing an e-book, the ultimate goal is to make the text adapt to the screen and let the readers have the freedom of choosing how they want to view their text.

An ebook reader standing against a pile of printed books

Subscription Models for Digital Literature

If you are someone who enjoys or is interested in digital literature, you probably know that there are a variety of ways in which you can experience it. Be it ebook or audiobook, the number of platforms you can choose from grows as time passes. In today’s blog post, we want to present you with a brief analysis of the current market for digital literature and its characteristics, trends, and platforms with the services they offer.

One of the main aspects that is necessary to understand about digital literature (and that is a particular characteristic of the subscription-based streaming era we are living in) is that unlike its printed counterpart, digital books are streamed, not owned. This is even true for ebooks that you buy, for example, at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. You are not truly purchasing a file that you can later lend or give away or sell to someone else if you wish to. Instead, you are paying to gain access to a certain material on a dedicated platform with limited sharing capabilities.

As you do not own your copy, subscription services have to compensate by offering diverse and numerous libraries. Some of these backlist titles can be hard to access in a printed format but are readily available to subscribers of these platforms. Nevertheless, each service is different. The more traditional models, like Scribd, Kindle Unlimited, or the international Storytel, offer a robust library composed of ebooks and audiobooks that you maintain access to as long as your subscription is active, although it might not include the newest titles on the market. In Kindle’s case specifically, the subscription does not offer complete access to their Amazon library, and their book selection fluctuates as well, meaning that not all the titles are available at any given time.

Other models, like Audible (which is owned by Amazon), offer a big library of audiobooks with current releases, but you can only access a limited amount of titles at a time in exchange for a credit. The rest have to be purchased separately. This is a similar model to that of the South Korean platform RidiBooks, which has not been brought over stateside yet. This service offers ebooks and audiobooks but has the particularity that it heavily features serialized fiction that updates constantly, a type of literature that does particularly well on platforms like this or like Webtoon.

Another prominent subscription service that has risen in notoriety is Substack. The platform focuses on connecting independent authors and their audiences more directly, facilitating the process of independent publishing. This is a very tailored experience for both writers and readers. It gives the authors the ability to control how to publish their content—free, paid (minimum of five dollars a month), or a combination of both—where the author gets to choose to make certain posts available to entice the interest of the audience that might not be subscribed. On the audience side, it adjusts the experience to their own needs by offering a variety of filters while also providing the ability to check an author’s page before deciding to subscribe or not.

With subscription-based services on the rise, it’s possible to identify one notorious trend: it is not about providing the same experience as a regular book in a digital form, but rather to deliver an experience to their audience that is specially designed for them and that they could not get otherwise. Instead of trying to replicate what succeeds in the physical format, current models for ebooks and audiobooks services are trying to embrace what makes them unique. Because of this, the future seems to bring further diversification for digital literature and the models of distribution it uses.

a computer screen with code

Free Resources for Every Step in the Ebook Creation Process

If you have ever written a book, you might have considered self-publishing, and probably creating an ebook version of your manuscript as well. But you might have run into questions such as: Can I create the ebook for my own manuscript? How do I even start?

While creating an ebook might seem a daunting and scary task, there are plenty of free tools and tutorials online that will make your task easier and more affordable. In this blog post, I am going to walk you through the basic steps of creating an ebook and the free resources that are available for every step.

Your first step in creating an ebook will be to convert your document into an EPUB file. There are many options and paths for the conversion, but it will all depend on where you have written your manuscript. The most common paths are the following:

  • If you have written your book in a Word document, you can use the tool Calibre to convert your file into an EPUB.
  • If you have written and designed your book in InDesign, you will be able to export it directly into an EPUB without any other tools.

There are obviously a lot more options to write and format your ebook, and I have only mentioned the most common ones, which are also standards of the industry. For an exhaustive explanation of how to format your ebook and which tools you can use, you can read the following article:

Once you have your EPUB file, you can move on to perfecting the aesthetic, format, and functionality of your ebook. To start, it is advised to open your ebook and browse through it. You can use any electronic reading software that you have available, such as Apple Books, Google Books, or even Calibre, and you should try to view it on different devices (phones, tablets, laptops, and ereaders).

At this point of the process, you might run into mistakes or elements that you want to correct and perfect, and you can do so by going directly into the code. These are some of the free resources available for opening your ebook and exploring the code:

  • Sigil. This is an excellent tool with which you can open your entire ebook and navigate all the files at once. It also has a second screen where you can see what your ebook looks like and how the different changes you make affect the layout. Moreover, all the changes you make and save will apply directly to the EPUB file you have stored.
  • Text editors. You can also use any text editor to play around with the code of individual files. These tools usually have color-coded tags and autocomplete features that will create closing tags for you. Some of the most popular text editors are Brackets, Sublime, Atom, and Visual Studio Code. If you choose to go this route, you will have to zip and unzip your EPUB file every time you want to work with it.

After you are done editing the code, you will have your complete ebook. But before uploading it to any platform, you need to validate it to make sure everything works and ebook standards are followed. And, of course, there are free tools for this step as well:

  • Pagina’s EPUB-Checker. This tool scans your EPUB file for any errors. If errors are found, they will appear in red and be listed with details of the type of error and the file where this is. If everything is correct, the items listed will appear in green.
  • Kindle Previewer. If you want to make your ebook available on Amazon, this tool is particularly useful because Kindle has its own specific guidelines. This tool allows you to execute a quality control and identify those elements that you need to change in order for your ebook to be accepted into Kindle.

Once your ebook is validated, it is ready to be uploaded. But do not forget to create a cover. Note that before uploading your ebook, you will need a separate file with your cover. If you still have not created one, a free and easy-to-use tool is Canva.

And now it is finally ready to become available to the public. Happy publishing!