EPUB: Power to the People


At last, after hours, days, weeks and months of hard writing, editing, rewriting and some more writing, you have at last finished your historical novel on the sex life of the South Sea clam. You cannot wait to get it out there. It is, after all, going to be a huge hit!

You know from the beginning that following the self-publishing route will mean extra work. As the author-publisher you will be much more involved in the technical aspects of the book. This includes layout, font, and e-book format.

Or perhaps you are a reader and are weighing up your options w.r.t. buying an e-reader. What format will benefit you the most in the long run?

At InstaScribe we are proponents of the EPUB format. But there are several formats in which an e-book can exist. Let’s try to understand the advantages of each.

AZW/ AZW3/ Mobi

These are proprietary formats that belong to Amazon used on their Kindle devices. Initially you could only read it on a Kindle device, but now this format is available on a wide range of devices (including i-Devices, Android devices and a range of smartphones). Amazon has released apps for these devices to increase their reach. The Kindle Reading app is available for free for Android, Windows, Apple and Black Berry phones.

The AZW-versions are more compressed and have better encryption than the older Mobi version. This means it takes less space on your device. For example, Kindle 3 can hold about 1500 books. But AZW files can only be obtained from the Amazon online bookstore.

One of the disadvantages of using AZW is that it has limited support for typography and layout. AZW files also can’t be created from scratch. Amazon’s proprietary Kindlegen software needs to be used to create the files.

AZW can be created from PDF. But one thing about PDF compared to other formats is that everything is fixed—fonts, graphics, text, etc. The resultant AZW may not be as pretty.
You could also convert from a TXT file, but you would still end up with a bland, featureless document.

EPUB could be an ideal format to have before conversion to AZW. Unlike PDF, which is a fixed page, EPUB provides reflowable text, ie. a page layout that can adjust itself to a device’s screen-size. If you are an author, getting a well-designed, well-coded EPUB should be your focus.

AZW works well for most types of e-books. However, photobooks or books that rely on color and layout for information may not work very well on AZW.


PDF is a popular e-book format since software support for this format exists for a lot of devices. There are plenty of PDF viewers in the market like Adobe Reader, Foxit Reader, Nitro PDF reader, PDF-XChange Viewer, Xpdf, etc. Granted PDF indeed has a lot of great features, it still is not always suitable for e-books.

The act of reading a PDF-document on an e-reader like the Kindle, with its small and low resolution screen, is more of an exercise in scrolling and zooming than anything else. The big problem is that on these devices a PDF is very much like a picture. The reader must adapt to the document’s restraints and shortcomings since it does not have reflowable text like many other formats.

It is also extremely difficult to convert a PDF to another format. Quite often it is a hit and miss affair that requires a lot of time.

While it is technically true that you can move a 10-ton load with a wheel-barrow, it would be ludicrous to say that it is the equivalent of a 10-ton truck.

When it comes to mainly text PDFs and e-readers, PDFs are like the wheel-barrow.

.txt documents

TXT documents too can be a format for e-books. You don’t need any technical expertise to work on a TXT document and there is no platform on which a TXT file can’t be read. It is universal!

The major disadvantage of TXT files, however, is that they do not allow for any formatting whatsoever. This means that great technological achievements like BOLD, UNDERLINE, and ITALICS cannot be displayed in a TXT document. It will all be the same. BOLD, UNDERLINE, and ITALICS.

However, TXT files are small and easy to work on. Are you willing to pay the cost?


The EPUB logo.

The EPUB logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

EPUB or Electronic Publication  “is a free and open e-book standard by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).” One of the design criteria of this standard was that the content be reflowable so that it adapts to the specific reader.

This means that text will be displayed optimally on each and every reader, whether it has a comparatively tiny display like that of a smart-phone, or a huge 21” display on your desktop.

The truth is that if you compare the abilities of EPUB with those of AZW/Mobi, it is extremely difficult to see a big difference. No clear winner emerges.

The great advantage of EPUB is that it is an open standard. It does not belong to a company. This means that if the retailer you bought your content from goes bankrupt tomorrow, you do not have to worry about your content.

On EPUB content producers can use cascading style sheets, embed fonts, and include multimedia files.

At this point, layout heavy books such as photo books, comics and graphic novels, which need to be read from panel to panel, don’t mix well with EPUB. These can be read on a computer with PDF format for a better experience. We contend that this is partly an e-reader issue. No e-ink reader can recreate the colored art work of comics. Neither can it fit a normal A4 sized page onto its screen. When it comes to graphics or any other graphic format, PDF outperforms EPUB and AZW. Apps like Madefire, Komik Reader, Comics, Perfect Viewer, etc., can be used to read comic books on mobile devices.


Betamax lost out to VHS despite the fact that it was technologically superior. If you read the history of this incident, you will see that Sony (the people behind Beta) had the opportunity to switch over to VHS right at the beginning.

They had the opportunity to address the needs of the consumer w.r.t price and recording length, but opted for technological superiority and not customer satisfaction.

Even if EPUB gets replaced by a newer and better format, your data is not at risk, since EPUB is an open format.

We also know that e-books will develop further. Graphic content is a big issue that still needs to be addressed satisfactorily. So too, the interactive feature that paper books allow. You can make notes, underline and kill a fly, in a way that is beyond the most advanced of e-readers.

EPUB, like power, belongs to the people.

– Written by Jandre Le Roux and Srishti Punja



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