There’s a lot of confusion regarding the production of books for Kindle and a lot of it is caused by our natural tendency to think of them in the same way as print book or PDF. We’ve all grown up with traditional books, so it seems logical that these new digital version should be pretty much the same, although that’s not really the case.
When designing a book for print we use PDF files that have a totally static, fixed layout; this is ‘set in stone’ by the book designer. Kindle ebooks, on the other hand, have a very different internal structure and are meant to be manipulated by the reader. In fact, that’s one of the biggest benefits for users of the Kindles. Users can change the size of the words and choose their own font as well as adjusting the line spacing, margins and more. Unlike a PDF, or a printed book, Kindle ebooks are specifically designed to allow for this level of flexibility.
A good analogy is the comparison between a lump of granite and a piece of clay. The granite – in this case, the print book or the PDF document – cannot be altered in any way unless it is physically damaged. The contours of the granite will always be the same, no matter how hard you attempt to change them. Equally, the layout of a print book or a PDF ebook will always be the same. You cannot re-order, move or shuffle the pages around. If chapter four starts on page 210 of the print book, it will, of course, start on page 210 in the PDF, and there’s nothing you can do to change this. If chapter eight in the print book uses a special font for certain sections of a chapter – lets say a handful of italicised callouts, for example – then, you guessed it, chapter eight of the PDF will display the same icalicised styled font. However, this is not the case with a Kindle ebook.
A Kindle ebook, or the clay in our analogy, is much more malleable. Specific elements, such as the style and size of the font, can be adjusted by the reader, as well as things such as the space between lines and even the “page” margins. Any adjustment made to these settings will affect how the words flow between “pages” and where breaks occur. The size of the screen also affects how many words appear on the screen at a time. An ebook displayed on the iPhone may contain more individual screens of text than one displayed on the Kindle, since the screen size of the former is so much smaller.
The “re-flowing” nature of the text in an ebook means that each screen or “page” of text will never have a set page number, although some e-readers automatically assign “virtual page numbers” to each screen. It’s unlikely that these page numbers will match up with your print book and there’s a good chance that they’ll also vary from one device to another. The appearance of the document may even change on a single device if any of the settings are changed – by increasing the font size for example. Like clay, your ebook will change and “re-shape” itself with every adjustment the reader makes. The challenge here is to create a layout that makes just as much sense and is just as usable on something as tiny as a mobile phone as it would be on a large computer monitor – no matter what settings the reader is using.
For these reasons we encourage authors to treat the two formats as completely separate entities. They both serve totally different purposes and the worst mistake that a publisher can make is to try and make the two match one another because that just wouldn’t be playing to the strengths of each medium. Print books and PDFs are great for highly visual layouts that are designed to be flicked through, whilst ebooks are designed for flexibility and an easy reading experience from cover-to-cover.