I found an interesting article on the blog of “technology innovation company” DPCI about how PDF format is an e-publishing dead end. In an era when e-readers have so many different potential screen sizes and different text formatting and rewrapping abilities, the article notes, a format that was primarily developed to freeze a page into a form that would look the same no matter where it was printed is a dead end for screen reading.
PDF is a dead-end format. What I mean by this is that the nature of the format mimics what it was intended for: print. Once ink hits the page, the code behind it that created it becomes irrelevant because the content was not intended to move from the printed page to another system, print is the end product.
Many of the platforms that are used in digital publishing today are based on technologies like HTML in order to allow the maximum flexibility between different platforms. Storing content in such a universal way also gives the maximum flexibility for future platforms. As digital publishing is rapidly changing as is the nature of the digital space, locking content into a single dead-end format like PDF only restricts your business opportunities moving forward.
The piece also points out that many of the interactive elements Adobe has since incorporated into PDFs rely on Adobe applications and Flash to view them—which means that they don’t read as intended on mobile platforms like the iPad or Amazon tablets, and with even Adobe moving away from Flash it’s not clear how viable they’ll be into the future.
I agree with pretty much every word of this article, though I can’t help but think it’s maybe about ten years late since I’ve been saying much the same thing about PDFs for at least that long. PDFs really aren’t an “e-book” format, no matter how reflowable you might make them.