PDF is not eBook

Gasteiger BluatNowadays the eBooks market contributes a ever growing share to publishers revenue. According to the BookStats report 2013, it constitutes about 20% of the whole book market in the US (source: Association of American Publishers News). But it seems that many of the publishers just jumped onto the ebook train, and ship out ebooks in hurry. I have seen many ebooks of low quality, many with typos, conversion errors, etc. But at least the were eBooks. In contrast, the book I wanted to read, Franz Wieser da Loha’s Gasteiger Bluat is koa Rührmili, as sold by the publishing company Novum Verlag, was a simple pdf file.

So why do I say that PDF is not an eBook format? Very shortly, there is one property that pdf is missing, and this is reflowability. Meaning, that the text adjusts to the screen size of the reader. Think about a web page where the line length changes when you shrink the screen. PDF does not do this. PDF until very recently does not support reflowing of text. It provides fixed page layout, which is optimal for printing and archiving, but not for reading on a device. For eBooks there are several formats, internally many of them are based on HTML/CSS. For a detailed overview and listing of formats see this Wikipedia article.

I wanted to read the book on my Kobo Glo, which supports ePub, the current widely adopted (besides by Kindle/Amazon) standard of eBooks. So that ruled out the purchase at the Amazon.de store since Kindle uses a different format (mobi/kf8). Besides, since I am in Japan and my Kindle is registered to the Japanese Amazon place, I cannot purchase it at the German Amazon place – another of this international market stupidities – and of course I have found a way around that!.

Instead of taking the easy route (order at Amazon, remove the copy protection from the obtained mobi, convert the mobi into epub with calibre, and install it onto my Kobo), I decided to purchase the book from the original publisher in good (or stupid?) faith that they will deliver a proper eBook. In fact, nothing on their web page of the book indicates that this will be a PDF. Alas, after purchase I was surprised to receive a plain simple PDF.

I contacted the publishing company concerning the matter, and as answer I got:

Due to technical reasons it is not possible to provide all books in ePub format.

Since I did not want to repurchase the book on Amazon, I decided to convert it myself into ePub. And although it was my first time doing it, it turned out to be surprisingly simple, and involved two open-source programs: Calibre, the eBook management program, and Sigil, the ePub editor.

First, I converted the pdf with Calibre to the ePub format. This left the page numbers as well as word hyphenations etc in the epub. Then I opened the generated ePub file in Sigil, and started to edit the content:

  • removing unnecessary images and ads
  • searching for page numbers (regexp search) and removing them
  • searching for hyphenations and removing them
  • replacing ‘f l’ generated from ligatures with ‘fl’
  • adding proper table of contents
  • general clean up (empty formatting removed, style sheet clean up)

Total time for the conversion from PDF to ePub was about 1h. Now, if anyone could explain me what is technically not possible for the publishing house, I would be interested to hear it. Considering that the Novum Verlag is calling itself Verlag für Neuautoren (Publisher for New Writers) I am wondering, why they do not take account of the current reality of the eBook market.

Anyway, now that I have converted it to ePub, I am looking forward to reading it in peace on my Kobo, and soon you will see a report on it here (probably in German).

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