SmallNews 2.0 can now create the newspaper as an ePub format eBook. ePub has been in the news a lot recently because it was mentioned as the format that the Apple iPad will support. In fact, most recent eBook readers (with the notable except of the Amazon Kindle) will read it. The best known desktop client is Adobe Digital Editions.
So which is better, PDF or ePub? That depends on what you want to do with it. If you format a PDF with the page size of the device you’re going to read it on, then it looks great. But if you read an PDF formatted for A4 pages on an 6″ eBook reader screen, it looks a mess. Yes, some readers do enable the PDF to be reflowed, but this is never entirely successful. Also, on my Sony Reader, if I increase the font size, the page flow gets messed up.
ePub, on the other hand, is designed to be reflowed. I find that at the default font size, there is not much difference between ePub and PDF on my Sony Reader. But if you increase the font size, the ePub version handles it much, much better. So I’ve switched to using ePub as the main version I read.
Where ePub really comes into it’s own is on even smaller devices, such as iPhone/iPod Touch. I previously used GoodReader to read the iPod version of the PDF. This worked quite well. I tried Stanza, but never really liked it for reading PDFs. But it’s a much better ePub reader, so I’ve switched to using Stanza/ePub on my iPod.
I said in the release notes that support for ePub in SmallNews is experimental. I have found that articles from The Guardian work very well in this format. But some other feeds are a little more unpredictable. ePub is an XHTML-based format, so the HTML from the newspaper site has to be converted to XHTML. If the source material is not well-constructed, this can cause problems. Most feeds I have tried do work, but my Sony Reader has crashed on 2 or 3 occasions. Whether this is the fault of the Sony software or the ePub created by SmallNews, I don’t know. Anyway, I would argue that even if the ePub is not quite perfect, the Sony Reader still shouldn’t crash. I will watch this over the next few weeks and see if I can establish any pattern.
If you’re interested in the technical detail of creating ePub files, they are basically a zip file of XHTML content, XML metadata and images. I found three tutorials about very useful:
Also, this ePub validator.