Fixed-layout digital content has remained a stubbornly niche format in the broader ereading marketplace, and it always may. But their prevalence could soon be expanding, and according to Laura Brady, ebook production expert and Principal at Brady Type who joined Digital Book World for a live webcast yesterday, the Adobe Creative Cloud’s June update to InDesign represents a big step in that direction.
“This is big. I mean really big,” Brady said, referring to the fixed-layout export feature instituted with the upgrade.
The main reason: until recently, ebook developers needed either to hand-build the HTML or use plug-ins in order to convert their work in Adobe InDesign into fixed-layout digital content. Now, the export feature creates “pixel-perfect layouts” in EPUB3 code, with the relationships between elements delineated in pixels, not percentages.
And because style sheets–central to reflowable ebook production–matter less than structure and good typography do in the new export, “even the messiest files will export well,” Brady said, “at least up to a point.”
Here are six other tips and caveats (expanding on some earlier tidbits) Brady offered for ebook designers getting acquainted with the new export:
- Hyperlinks aren’t exporting. This is one of the biggest issues with the new feature, and it’s one Adobe engineers are working on resolving. Until they do, ebook developers will need to go into the code to manually insert links. Speaking of which…
- “Editing the code is hard,” Brady conceded, especially for designers more familiar with InDesign than with traditional ebook production. But sometimes the trickiest challenges are best surmounted with the simplest solutions: pinpoint where in the code an issue is arising, and address it with trial and error.
- Accessibility issues need further exploring. But that should be seen as an opportunity, Brady said, not a hindrance. As one attendee pointed out on Twitter during yesterday’s webcast:
— Yellow Buick Review (@YBReview) August 26, 2014
- Understand typography limitations. Don’t use horizontal or vertical scaling. And effects like kerning and skewing won’t export from InDesign. Designers can use OpenType fonts, but certain features (alternate glyphs, small caps, fractions) aren’t supported. Mathematical elements, though, should export just fine.
- Testing, testing, testing. As every professional ebook developer knows, it’s crucial to test all your work on the full range of devices readers will use to access it. The spec varies among the major retailers’ formats, with Kindle’s KF8 by far the most different. Be advised, and proceed accordingly.
Ultimately and needless to say, the fate of fixed-layout digital content in the ebook market is still very much in the hands of publishers, many of whom haven’t seen great returns so far. The new export feature is likely to lower costs by making the production process easier for a wider range of designers, and the quality of the fixed-layout content it will help them create may also attract more publishers’ notice and spark more readers’ interest.
In that sense, then, the future of fixed-layout ebooks rests in developers’ hands–and is far from fixed.