EPUB versus PDF: The Pros and Cons for E-Publishing

A Look at the Primary Formats for EBooks

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In today’s epublishing world, you have a choice to make, EPUB versus PDF. Ebooks have put digital publishing in the forefront of modern technology. Systems like Amazon’s Kindle, the BeBook Neo, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader are digital libraries that fit in your pocket. As technology advances, publishers are looking for more developer-friendly files for ebooks markets. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of both EPUB and PDF formats for epublishing environments.

Portable Document Format (PDF)

Portable Document Format (PDF) is a document exchange created by Adobe Systems in 1993. PDF provides files in a two-dimensional layout that work independently of some software and operating systems. You must have a specialized reader, Acrobat, on your computer to view a PDF file.

  • Pros of PDFs
    PDF is currently the most widely used electronic document format worldwide. There are a lot of advantages to working in PDF format. PDF files give you control over layout and fonts. They can be generated by GUI-based tools from a number of companies beyond Adobe. For example, Microsoft Word has the ability to produce PDF files. The reader software is free and comes installed on most computers.
  • Cons of PDFs
    Code to generate PDF files is complex and, from a software developer’s point of view, difficult to master. Conversion of PDF files to a web-friendly format is difficult as well. PDF files are not easily reflowable. In other words, PDF files don’t adapt well to various sized displays and devices. It is difficult to view some PDF files on small screens that come with some readers and smartphones.

    Electronic Publication (EPUB)

    Electronic Publication (EPUB) is the XML format for reflowable books developed for digital publishing. EPUB was standardized by the International Digital Publishing Forum and has become popular with major publishers. Although by design, EPUB is for ebooks, it could be used for other types of documentation as well, such as user’s manuals.

    • Pros of EPUB
      Where PDF fails software developers, EPUB picks up the slack. EPUB is written primarily in two languages: XML and XHTML. This means it works well with most types of software. EPUB is delivered as one zip file. The zip file creates an archive of the organizational and content files for the book. Platforms already utilizing XML formats can easily be transferred into EPUB. The files for an ebook made from EPUB are reflowable and easy to read on small devices.
    • Cons of EPUB
      There are some strict requirements for creating the zip archive for EPUB. Creating EPUB documents does take some prior knowledge. You must understand the syntax of XML and XHTML 1.1, as well is how to create a style sheet. With a PDF file, you can take the proper software and create the file without any real programming knowledge. However, with EPUB you will need to the basics of the associated languages in order to build valid files.