The Pros and Cons for E-Publishing: EPUB vs. PDF

A look at the primary formats for e-books

E-books put digital publishing at the forefront of modern technology. The Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader are digital libraries that fit in a pocket. In today's e-publishing world, two of the most common e-book formats are EPUB and PDF. Choosing which format to use can be tricky, so we looked at both to find the benefits and disadvantages of each.

ePUB vs PDF
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Overall Findings

PDF
  • Universal format that most devices can open.

  • Powerful graphical tools for editing.

  • More programs can open and create PDF files.

EPUB
  • Format specifically designed for e-books.

  • Advanced formatting options.

  • Works well with e-book readers.

  • Based on HTML, making it highly adaptable.

Let's take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of both EPUB and PDF formats for e-publishing environments.

Portable Document Format (PDF) Pros and Cons

Advantages
  • The most used electronic document format worldwide. It's independent of the operating system and hardware of the device viewing it, meaning that PDFs look the same on every device.

  • Great for customization, give you control over the layout and fonts. You can make the document look however you see fit.

  • Generated easily, often using GUI-based tools from companies beyond Adobe.

Disadvantages
  • The code needed to generate PDF files is complex and, from a software developer's point of view, difficult to master. The conversion of PDF files to a web-friendly format is difficult as well.

  • PDF files are not easily reflowable and don't adapt well to various sized displays and devices. As a result, it's hard to view some PDF files on small screens that come with some readers and smartphones.

Portable Document Format (PDF) is a document exchange created by Adobe Systems in 1993. PDF provides files in a two-dimensional layout that works independently of most software and operating systems. To view a PDF file on your computer, you must have a PDF reader like Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Electronic Publication (EPUB) Pros and Cons

Advantages
  • Where PDF fails software developers, EPUB picks up the slack. EPUB is written in XML and XHTML. This means it works with most software.

  • Delivered as one ZIP file that's an archive of the organizational and content files for the book. Platforms that use XML formats can be transferred into EPUB.

  • The files for an e-book made in the EPUB format are reflowable and easy to read on small devices.

  • There are tools to convert EPUB files to and from various formats.

Disadvantages
  • There are strict requirements for creating the archive for EPUB, and creating documents takes some prior knowledge. You must understand the syntax of XML and XHTML 1.1, as well as how to create a style sheet.

  • When it comes to PDF, a user with the proper software can create the document without any programming knowledge. However, with EPUB, you need to know the basics of the associated languages to build valid files.

EPUB is the XML format for reflowable books developed for digital publishing. EPUB was standardized by the International Digital Publishing Forum and has become popular with major publishers. Although EPUB is for e-books by design, it could be used for other types of documentation as well, such as user manuals.

Final Verdict

This one comes down to how you want to use and distribute the document. If you're looking for the most universal format, go with PDF. There are many devices that can open and view PDF files. PDFs are also ideal for the web and sharing documents that you don't want to be modified.

EPUB is designed specifically for e-books. EPUB is great for e-readers and can use the text and sizing controls that those devices provide. The EPUB format is also designed for more detailed publication formatting that is typically found in e-books. If you want a universal e-book format, EPUB is the right choice.