Just recently at work, I was asked what tools are best to create publications and what are the differences between an EPUB, PDFs and other digital publishing formats. As you all know, after previously worked in educational publishing, there are so many options out there, it could take a while to discover what the differences are for each competing standard. First up is EPUB. The electronic publication format (EPUB) is one of the most popular file formats for e-books.
An EPUB is similar in some ways to a Web page, in that it is based on HTML markup at its core. It is an open and freely available standard that can be used by anyone. An EPUB e-book is simply an archive containing several other files stored together using the common .zip format (and then changing the file suffix to .epub). The files in an EPUB archive can include your words, images, tables of contents, stylesheets, fonts and details or metadata about a book, such as author or title. EPUB’s standard format means your publication can be read on many e-readers or converted easily to other e-readers that don’t use EPUB directly. EPUB is a layout-agnostic format that allows the content to be read even on small screens. EPUBs can be created for and sold on iBooks and/or Amazon for the Kindle among other monetization paths and digital publishing stores. The EPUB specification continues to evolve. The current version of the specification, 3.0, was approved in 2011.
Next, PDFs. A Portable Document Format (PDF) is also an open-specification file format maintained by Adobe that allows documents to be easily shared while retaining the same visual formatting. It is page-oriented and has a static layout, while an EPUB is display-oriented and allows content to be dynamic. Although PDF files are read easily on computer screens, they are not compatible or very usable with some mobile devices that have smaller screens. Beyond standards like EPUB and PDF, there are a number of emerging “digital publication” formats competing for adoption. These publications often focus around interactivity and rich media display, making flexibility in design and for immersive and engaging design. For example, when creating a marketing publication, interactive elements that enrich the user’s experience such as video, audio, slideshows and animation are beneficial to enhancing the user’s experience.
I personally like the Apple’s iBook format, which I have talked about before, but so far it’s up to you to consider the different types of content you might have available or want to display when creating a publication. EPUBs are generally great for books, while PDFs are best for documents and brochures. If the content requires enriched interaction or is appropriate as a magazine or immersive interactive experience, then maybe an iBook is what you want. But do remember the correct platform choice depends greatly on the content you are designing for, the user experience you’re trying to create, and what type of market you are trying to reach. Once you determine these, you just need to choose the correct tool and delivery mechanism that can be used to develop the solution.