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What is Your Favorite Layout For PDF E-books?

Published: 08/08/2013
By: larry

3ColumnHorzIt's been 4 years since I polled e-book purchasers and blog readers about their opinion on PDF e-book layout. And there's been a lot of things happen in the world of e-books in the last 4 years, namely the rise of tablets. So the poll below is intended to help me understand how most people read PFRE PDF e-books.

What made me realize this subject needs revisiting is the story that a purchaser of one of the PFRE e-books told me not  long ago. He said he was reading the e-book on his iPad in a public cafeteria during lunch and a lady nearby watching him read the e-book was making fun of him because he kept zooming in and zooming out while he was reading. So I tried it for a while, and yes, that's what you tend to do... position, zoom in, zoom out reposition. The current font size is too small for everyone to comfortably read on a tablet.

Since hearing this story I've done some experimenting with the e-book layout and come to the following conclusions:

  1. Three column landscape (horizontal) format (the current e-book layout) is great for reading on laptops and large monitors but far from ideal for use on tablets.
  2. A single column portrait (vertical) format works best on tablets and is most like the Kindle e-book experience. No, I'm not going to do these e-books in Kindle format or iBook format because PDFs work everywhere and are highly portable, it's just the best format for this kind of publication.
  3. Adobe Reader and OS X PDF display applications all have a mode that shows two pages side by side that looks effectively like a multi-column landscape format.
  4. Even when printed the landscape (horizontal) format is unconventional enough so not everyone agrees how alternate pages are to be printed. That is some would bind the book at the left and some would bind it at the top.

So given these conclusions I've pretty much decided to switch back to a vertical format for all of the e-books as they are updated so they work well on tablets. After all most of the world is moving to tablets especially for e-book reading. But, I'd still like to hear your opinions so please take the following poll and leave comments.

Update: Yes, I know, it is simplistic to assume you only use one device to read e-books... but tell me what your primary reading device is.

[polldaddy poll=7306103]

13 comments on “What is Your Favorite Layout For PDF E-books?”

  1. Larry,

    you left of Windows tablets, which I suspect is now being lumped in "Other".

    Would be nice to break it out given the Surface tablets have now been out for a little while, and the fact quite a few other manufacturers are using the the windows OS on their tablets.


  2. Dear Mr. Lohrman:

    I enjoy your real estate books and articles. the horizontal format is easier on the Web, but it makes printing them out difficult. The pages come out all out of order and do not make a good print result.

    I would like to see the books downloadable as PDF formats in the traditional booklet format which is easier to print, with the horizontal format available for use on electronic devices.

    Thank you very much.

  3. @andrew - yes other was meant to include other tablets, I changed the category to "Other tablets"... there are a bunch that fall in this category.

  4. I read Photograph magazine on a 10" tablet with no trouble. I do have 20/20 vision so maybe that helps. Personally, I prefer landscape to portrait for reading. So much less scrolling, at least it seems that way. Part of me wants to say "forget customizing for mobile devices" because there are so many variables, but at the same time it cannot be ignored.

  5. Love your eBooks Larry. First choice for reading is my MacBookPro and second is the iPad. My perception is that the horizontal format is easier to read with less scrolling. That's probably because the MBP is a horizontal screen and also because examples are usually landscape views. Other text books I read on my iPad. Either way it's 8 1/2 x11 or "A pound is a pound the world around", so I'm good with either one ;-).

  6. Hi Larry, I read ebooks on my Mac desk top and also have kindle on my Mac laptop for when I'm travelling.
    If I'm going to refer to the ebook content on a regular basis I print a hard copy.

    Even on desk top I prefer a single column, but that's probably cause I'm in my early 60's.

    Daryl Drake

  7. I prefer the vertical format. While I do read pdf's on my laptop or desktop, there are times that I will print an eBook for reading at a later time especially if the eBook has a lot of pages.

  8. Larry,

    As an experienced graphic designer I offer you the following suggestions in appreciation for the wonderful content of your book.

    1. Avoid long line-lengths of text. Too long and the reader will suffer eye fatigue. The reason for multiple columns is to break up large bodies of text. If you go to a single column of text you may want to consider changing format to vertical or dedicating more of the page to other graphic elements like photos or illustrations.

    2. With documents that have a lot of text, typeface selection is critical to keep the reader comfortable for what could be hours. Pick a typeface with similar character widths, medium height-to-width ratios, medium x-heights (height of lower case letters), and small variations in stroke weight (the thick and thins of a letter). My favorite text faces are Adobe Caslon (11size/12.75pt leading), Adobe Garamond (11.5/12.75), ITC Stone Serif (9.5/12.75), Janson text 55 roman (10.5/12.75).

    3. Use white space as a design element to lead the viewer into your page. Right now you are covering every bit of the page with text and it doesn't invite the reader into the page. Widen your margins and open up your leading (line spacing). You may have to add a few more pages but who cares? There's no print cost and if the reader is comfortable they won't care.

    4. Use callouts and pull quotes to draw the reader into the page. Quotes pulled from the text are fundamental story telling tools. You should consider using them.

    5. You know how a rookie photographer doesn't correct his verticals? Rookie designers over embellish their pages creating unnecessary visual noise the mind must process. In these cases the design gets in the way of communication. Your headers and sub-heads are over-embellished and not consistent. You don't need a large brown color block with a black stroke to signal a new section. Some subheads are blue, some are bright red. All of these elements tug at the eye and make it hard to know where to look first. Use text weight, size or a slight tint of color. But only use one.

    Study other online pubs carefully and see how they establish visual hierarchy with their text and graphic elements. There's an old saying that good design is 90% destruction. Meaning that good design is eliminating what is not important, so what is important can be seen. This is true whether you are designing a page or a photograph. Right?

  9. @Jeff- Thanks for the suggestions. These are all great ideas. You are right I need to put some more design work in to the e-book layouts.

  10. I download a few digital magazines via Zinio and do prefer the standard magazine portrait view for browsing on a tablet..

  11. Thanks for the input on this subject. It confirmed my informal observations that tablets have become a major factor while people still use laptops, desktops and print. The most surprising discovery is that more people aren't using Kindles to read PDF e-books.

  12. Larry; there is no one best way to publish, todays users are using them all. I also like to print it, Have it on my ipad and android and bring it up on the big screen. So having all forms available serves everyone:)

    Keep them coming I learn a lot from your books.


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