Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Many publishers and ebook creation companies strive to create a single EPUB file they can deliver to all of the different retailers, rather than producing different files for each one.
While there are pros and cons to this approach to ebook production, my own view is that the pros outweigh the cons. But first, here’s a look at the more common points on both sides of the discussion.
- Creating one EPUB file often reduces production time, keeping costs down. Production costs are the main factor in this decision since most publishers are limited by the bottom line on ebook production.
- Some publishers only assign one ISBN to all of their ebook files, and that is a little bit easier to track when you create only one EPUB as well. I won’t get into the potential issues with assigning one ISBN to ebook files in this post, but it is worth noting that this is a common practice.
- While it is true that creating one file saves some production time, most publishers still aren’t doing enough quality assurance on their ebook files, regardless of how many they create. So a single EPUB workflow is not increasing the quality of EPUB files, even if it’s helping to generate them faster.
- Kindle Format 8 is much closer to the EPUB 2 and EPUB 3 standards than Mobipocket 7 was, but KF8 is still not the same thing as EPUB. Amazon has doubled down on its own proprietary format (for good reasons that I can explain in another post), and I don’t see that changing anytime in the near future. This means that a single-source EPUB has to accommodate the differences that come with a Kindle conversion without negatively affecting the display of the file on EPUB devices. This can be hard to accomplish, and some publishers just give up, again letting quality slip as a result.
- At the same time, EPUB support across devices is not as consistent as everyone would like it to be, either. Yes, the other major ebook retailers do sell EPUB files, but their support for specific features and styling will always depend on what they think their users want to see and how much time and money they can spend on reading system improvements. The test results at EPUBtest.org show just how inconsistent the different reading systems are in this area. Even when the retailers all support something, it is not always supported in the same way.
- Fixed-layout ebooks cannot be created in a single format. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have their own proprietary formats for fixed-layout content, and EPUB 3 support is not always consistent in Apple, Kobo and Google. Even if you do create one EPUB for reflowable content, you can’t get away with that in fixed-layout development.
While there are a lot of potential problems with the single-file workflow, it still gets my vote for the majority of content.
My normal recommendation is to start with well-formed EPUB files with semantic, accessible HTML code and solid CSS that doesn’t rely on a lot of complex tricks or formatting irregularities. With that foundation in place, most ebook developers will find that creating a single reflowable EPUB that works on all or most devices is much easier to accomplish.
Regardless of how you create your files, though, you need to test them thoroughly before you send them out to distribution. Quality assurance is arguably the most important part of any ebook creation workflow, and we will talk a lot about that in this column in the future. In the meantime: test, test, test!