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Tech Tip: Picking a Digital Publishing Format

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The iBooks Author program is designed to make e-books for Apple devices, but you can also save your creation as a PDF file for reading on non-Apple tablets and other screens. Credit The New York Times

Q. What is the “best” publishing method for digital books? I don’t want my readership to be limited to users who have Apple devices if I use iBooks Author. Is the .pdf format viable?

A. One major factor in picking the “best” format for publishing your electronic book is finding the format that works best for your book. Depending on where you put your book up for sale, you may also be able to export it into multiple formats to reach the widest audience.

The PDF (Portable Document Format) standard works well for visually oriented books that need a fixed layout to present content effectively — like children’s storybooks, photography books, graphics-heavy textbooks, travel guides and the like. Unlike some other e-book formats, standard PDF files do not allow the text in the book to be resized or to change fonts or to spill onto different pages than originally intended.

Most mobile devices can easily open PDF files (or with the aid of free software), but since users cannot alter the font size, they may need to do a lot of zooming in and out on small screens to comfortably read the e-book. Users who need to use the accessibility features — like screen readers to narrate the text aloud — may find PDF files harder to work with than other formats.

Apple’s free iBooks Author software for the Mac also includes features for making visually complex interactive books in the company’s iBooks format for iOS devices. While some interactive elements may not work, books created in iBooks Author can be exported to PDF format for use on other mobile platforms.

If your book is mostly text with minimal (or no) visual elements, the EPUB format works on many e-readers, computers and mobile devices. The point size of the text in an .epub book can be made smaller or bigger based on the user’s preference, and the onscreen font may be changed — all of which can cause the text to reflow across a different span of electronic pages. EPUB files can be created from Microsoft Word documents, exported from files in Apple’s Pages program, converted from Apache OpenOffice documents with the Writer2ePub extension or created with other utility programs.

Amazon has its own Kindle Direct Publishing system for creating books (including textbooks) supported by the company’s Kindle e-readers, tablets and apps. Once the book has been properly formatted, it can be sold in the company’s Kindle Store.

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NYT > Technology

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