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Tag: PDF

Reading PDFs on ereaders

A while ago, a friend was thinking about buying an ereader for her husband, who reads a lot of PDFs. She thought it would be great for him to be able to read them on an eink device. She asked for advice, and this post is based on what I told her.

Screenshot of a PDF displayed on a Kindle Paperwhite
Reading a PDF on a Kindle Paperwhite. The page size is A4, but the Kindle has a 6″ screen, so the text is very small and difficult to read.

There are many articles online claiming that Kindles and other ereaders support PDF, or how easy it is to convert PDF to your ereader’s preferred format. They’re right, but with some significant caveats. Reading a PDF on an ereader is a far cry from reading an ePub or mobi format ebook on the same device. The PDF won’t resize and reflow to work nicely on the screen. This leads to a lot of zooming and scrolling. I found it such an unpleasant experience that I bought a 10″ tablet to read PDFs on. I still prefer my Kindle and my Kobo for reading ebooks, but won’t use them for PDFs.

Screenshot of a PDF on a Kindle, zoomed in so that the text is large enough to read.
The same PDF on the same Kindle, zoomed in to make the text large enough to read. The user has to scroll horizontally to read each line.

So, why not convert the PDF to ePub or mobi, and read that on the ereader? Converting PDFs is simple enough using Calibre, but the results are very uncertain. The Calibre manual states that “PDF documents are one of the worst formats to convert from.” If it’s a single-column PDF it might work reasonably well. It won’t be as pretty as the original, paragraph breaks might be in odd places, etc. If the PDF has headers and footers, they will be included in the converted file as if they were a standard part of the text, which can be jarring.

Screenshot of a PDF converted to mobi and displayed on a Kindle Paperwhite.
The same PDF converted to a mobi file to read on a Kindle.

Two-column PDFs won’t convert well at all. The converter doesn’t recognise the columns, and so you get the first line of the first column, then the first line of the second column, second line of the first column, second line of the second column, etc. The result is unreadable. Text boxes and the like can also really mess with it.

If you’re going to read a lot of PDFs, I would strongly recommend something with a 10″ or larger screen. 10″ tablets are common and some are reasonably inexpensive, but many people don’t like reading on a back-lit screen, hence the popularity of eink devices for reading ebooks. Kobo recently announced the Kobo Elipsa, which has a 10.3″ eink screen. This should be excellent for reading PDFs and ebooks, but it’s significantly more expensive than either a standard ereader with a 6″ screen or a 10″ tablet.

Make and Sell a Flip Book

I own a copy of a rather unusual book, Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Just the Words. It includes volumes one and two in a single flip book. Volume one starts at the front, but to read volume two, you flip the book over and start from the back. The two meet in the middle.

I started wondering recently if I could create a flip book and get it printed and on sale. This article will explain how I made such a book and put it on sale via Ingram Spark. KDP Print doesn’t support this type of book.

For my book, I used the Project Gutenberg text of Little Wars and Floor Games, both by H.G. Wells. I chose these because they are in the public domain, they fit together, and they’re books that I’m happy to have on my shelves but didn’t already own.

Create the Interior PDFs

First, I created the interior files. I used Vellum to create two interior PDFs, one per book. In my book, Little Wars starts at the front, and Floor Games starts at the back. I had to rotate the Floor Games PDF, so it was upside down, and the pages had to be reversed.

To do that, I used a program named pdftk. I used the command-line version, although I believe a version with a graphical interface is also available. The command I used was:

pdftk Floor-Games-Print.pdf cat end-1south output Floor-Games-Rotated-Reversed.pdf

Then I used pdftk again to combine the Little Wars PDF and the rotated and reversed Floor Games PDF into a single file. I also added a PDF of two blank pages between the two:

pdftk Little-Wars-Print.pdf two-blank-pages.pdf Floor-Games-Rotated-Reversed.pdf cat output back-to-back.pdf

The resulting PDF looked normal for the first half, but the second half was upside down and the page numbers went down instead of up.

The interior of Floor Games, after it had been rotated and reversed
The interior of Floor Games, after it had been rotated and reversed

Cover

Since this was an experiment, I created a simple cover on Canva. Again, the back cover had to be upside down. Because the book is very short, it didn’t have a distinct spine for me to worry about. I allowed Ingram Spark to add the barcode, and they added it to the default location. Normally, this would be on the bottom right of the design, but when the book is turned over to read the second book, the barcode appears in the top left, and upside down. A professional cover designer could have moved the barcode to a better location, although the barcode would still be upside down in relation to the back cover design.

On Sale

I uploaded the cover and interior files in the normal way. Ingram Spark approved it for printing, but KDP Print would not. I have approved it for distribution, so if you would like to see the finished product, you can buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or others (ISBN 978-1-912680-29-0). I have set the price deliberately low, since it’s on sale mostly so that people can see the results for themselves.

Conclusion

This was an unusual project that I undertook mostly as an experiment, but I’m pleased with the results. If you have a project that would suit the flip book treatment, we’d be happy to help. Email us for more information and to get started.

Animated gif showing the Little Wars and Floor Games flip book
The finished book

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