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Q&A Home Question

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Dudley Dowell
children's books
coffee table books
Sat, May 14, 2016 - 06:58 AM

What is the difference between fixed-layout and reflowable layout, and which format makes more sense for my book?

1 Answer

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Bo Bennett, PhD
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Bo Bennett, PhD


About Bo Bennett, PhD

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Print Sat, May 14, 2016 - 06:58 AM

The Difference Between Fixed-layout and Standard or Reflowable format

The vast majority of ebooks on the market use the standard or what is sometimes referred to as reflowable format. This includes your basic .epub and .mobi files—the two formats that currently dominate the ebook universe. This format gives control to the reader and their device in how they want the text displayed (i.e., background color, font, font size, etc.). It is ideal for most titles that comprise mostly text or even include images where the placement of the image just appear before or after the text (the text is not part of the image). This format is accepted virtually everywhere ebooks are distributed and compatible with virtually all ebook readers. At, we just need to convert the book one time and from there we export it to .epub, .pdf, and .mobi, which means one inexpensive conversion and your book can be available on virtually every device.

This is an example of a reflowable or standard epub. Notice the standard text that can be resized.

There are some books that simply don't work well or don't work at all in these standard ebook formats. Books where the text is superimposed on the images, books where the text needs to be in multiple columns, books where the text cannot reflow but the size and position must remain constant, and books where the images that need to bleed to the edge and span multiple pages. Some examples of these books may include:

Children's books (image heavy)
Graphic novels
Photo essays (coffee table books)
Textbooks with formulas
Comic books
and other books with similar requirements

Here is an example of a fixed-layout, where the placement of the image will remain the same in comparison to the text, no matter what the device or orientation.

These books look best using a fixed-layout. With a fixed-layout, the author has complete control over how they wants their book to look. These books also use the extensions .epub and .mobi (which is confusing) but will only display on devices that support the fixed layout, which at this time (May 2016), is still quite limited given the total number of devices available. In addition, only some of the major retailers support this format (Amazon, Apple, Google, Kobo) whereas the others do not. Unlike the process of creating a standard ebook, the process for creating a fixed-layout is far more complex. This is because the major retailers have their own software to create and compile a fixed-layout ebook (with the exception of a few that do support the standard ePub 3 formats). Very often, the cost of creating a fixed-layout book does not justify the expense (but not always...).

Which format makes more sense for my book?

As mentioned, for the vast majority of books the standard format is ideal. This is a good thing because it is inexpensive to convert and the book has the widest possible distribution and reach. But some authors will have a choice to make: 1) allow for some stylistic adjustments in order to use the standard format, 2) use the fixed-layout, or 3) a combination of both. Which direction you choose is based on many factors including your source files, your specific book/genre, your budget, and more. If you have a book that might work better as fixed layout, discuss these options with your project manager.
Bo Bennett, PhD

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