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ePub vs. DPS – choosing the right digital formats for magazines and ebooks

  • Published on November 19, 2014
ePub vs. DPS – choosing the right digital formats for magazines and ebooks

When deciding to distribute your books electronically, you have a number of decisions because there is not a single digital document format for magazines, books, and other publications. You may wonder whether you should use ePub or Adobe DPS or Kindle’s mobi file format.

The correct format for you will depend upon the skills and time available of the staff preparing the documents, whether the publication updates frequently, the size of the document, and whether the document has complex layout and interactivity requirements.

Some digital publishing formats, such as the folios created by Adobe DPS are actually apps that run on the iPad, nook, or Kindle. This is used by many digital magazines. Of course PDF files can incorporate interactivity as well, and fixed layout eBook files created from InDesign and other applications can also include much interactivity. There are many choices, and each digital format has advantages and disadvantages.

There are two broad categories for digital magazines and books:

Digital book formats

The ebook file formats, which include ePub and mobi file formats, are generally better for communicating longer text-heavy documents, especially when exact formatting of image positioning is not important.  Most ePub files adapt their formatting and text flow based upon the device on which they are displaying, and on user preferences.

Publication in the ePub format is available at no cost, with no license fees. For example, you can create an ePub and host it on your website. ePub files can be read on the iPad, nook, Kindle.

Fixed layout ebook files

A small subset of ePub files are created as fixed-layout files, in which the size and position of images are fixed on the device. These previously required a significant amount of setup, and are common with children’s picture books. The investment in time can be worthwhile to the publishers of books where the books are not updated frequently and do not become out of date. Most digital books with fixed-layout formatting are smaller, children’s books. Before InDesign CC 2014 fixed-layout ePub took an unreasonably long period of time to create a complex or longer fixed-layout eBooks. As such, traditional magazines or longer form picture books were often not considered for fixed layout ePub. Yet fixed layout ePub is now much easier to create, and with CSS3 functionality, the files can be quite robust.

Digital magazine formats

Digital apps are widely used by magazine publishers and can incorporate more extensive interactivity and multimedia, and are generally easier to set-up than a fixed-layout epub. This is especially true for longer magazines using InDesign. These can also be used for digital books as well. These can be single-issue publications, or publications that are part of a serial of publications that are updated regularly, such as monthly or quarterly. Publication in the app format requires that the app be placed on specific stores, such as the Apple app store, or Google Play. At a minimum there is a one-time fee associated with creating the app. This can be as high as $300 per store, or it can be reduced with volume licenses. In short, there is a fee for distributing most Adobe DPS documents, while eBook files can be shared at no cost, or sold in any store you want.

Different magazine and digital books help you reach unique audiences

If you are producing several versions of content, you may want to consider producing it in a variety of formats. The audience for an immersive, interactive summary of technical information may be a high school or university student. While a professor studying similar data is more likely to want to read the full report or the footnotes found in the appendix, and is likely to be less interested in the multimedia. You are likely to be able to reach the more technical audience with a traditional digital ebook format, rather than an app. Yet some of your audience may have limited access to various apps, and thus the PDF format will likely remain an important way of reaching some of your audience if widespread distribution of your content is important.

Evaluating your digital publishing workflow

If your goal is to reach the widest possible audience, you will want to extend beyond PDF publishing. ePub is the standard digital book format. It is an open standard, and InDesign can export directly to it. ePub is an eBook format, and these documents can be read on the iPad, nook, in most browsers with a plug-in, freely using Google Play if you have an Internet connection. They can also be converted to the mobi format used by Amazon’s Kindle.

Adobe DPS Folios: Content created using Adobe DPS, which is part of InDesign, can be distributed on Apple’s newsstand and other similar platforms, such as Google Play. It provides for a richer, more interactive set of content. If your content is already created using InDesign, you can use the Digital Publishing Suite tools to enhance the content for distribution as an app.

Where can I learn to create digital magazines and eBooks

The starting point for learning to create digital magazines and books is with InDesign training. Once you’ve learned InDesign, there are eBook training classes to teach you to create digital books, and Adobe DPS courses that teach skills needed for creating digital magazines and books. American Graphics Institute offers these as regularly scheduled courses, both in-person with a live instructor, or online with a live instructor.


About the author

Christopher Smith is president of American Graphics Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the publisher and editor of the Digital Classroom book series, which have sold more than one million copies. At American Graphics Institute, he provides strategic technology consulting to marketing professionals, publishers and to large technology companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and HP. An expert on web analytics and digital marketing, he delivers Google Analytics training along with workshops on digital marketing topics. He is also the author of more than 10 books on electronic publishing tools and technologies, including the Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies. Christopher did his undergraduate studies the at the University of Minnesota, and then worked for Quark, Inc. prior to joining American Graphics Institute where he has worked for 20 years.