Similarities and Differences Between Print Books and Ebooks

What are the similarities and differences between a print book and an ebook with reflowable text?

Many of the conventions of a print book are used in an ebook – for example: covers, title pages, copyright page, tables of contents, chapters, paragraphs, etc.

So…if these are the similarities, what are the differences?

The single most important difference is that print books have static layouts, whereas ebooks have dynamic layouts. This is because most ebooks are formatted with reflowable text.

What is reflowable text? It is “the ability to automatically wrap words in a document to the next line as the user changes the window size and thereby relocates the right margin of the page” (ref: If you want to see this in action, open your book in Microsoft Word and go to Menu View > Web Layout. You will see that there aren’t “pages”, per se. Now resize your screen smaller, then larger. You will see the text “wrap” to adjust to the size of the screen.

Because the ebook text “flows” to adjusts to the size of the screen, ebooks do not have pages as in a print book. Since they do not have pages, they do not have page numbers. As they do not have page numbers, one cannot use page numbers as a means of navigating and referencing in a table of contents or index. Instead, one has a table of contents that is hyperlinked to the individual chapters and/or sections of the book.

As ebooks do not have pages, there are a few other things found in ebooks are different in print books. There aren’t headers or footers in an ebook. Footnotes become “end notes”. Also, to ensure the predictability of placement, images must be in line with the text and centered. Most eReaders at this time do not accept charts, tables and columns, so these must be converted into an image first.

In an ebook, the reader can set the font type and size, as well as the sentence spacing so long as the font has not been embedded during formatting.

Readers also have the use of the ereader’s search function to navigate throughout the book.

This explanation of some of the similarities and difference between print books and ebooks with reflowable text should help you understand the transition from one to the other.

Differences between Print Books and Ebooks
Ebook Launch

Differences between Print Books and Ebooks

This is a list of the differences between Print Books and Ebooks.

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  1. 1  Reflowable Text

    Reflowable Text

    Text is reflowable, like what appears on your NOOK eReader, when a sentence reaches the end of the allotted space on the page and it wraps around to the next line. And when there is no more space for lines on the page, the text flows over onto the next page.

  2. 2  Fonts


    Fonts are not all created equal. Before you get into an uproar about why your formatter can't use your pretty calligraphic font in your ebook, let me explain something. HTML is meant to be universal, meaning no matter who creates the HTML document or on what machine, that document can be viewable across all web browsers.

  3. 3  Linked Table of Contents

    Linked Table of Contents

    A short 'how to' video showing how you can create a linked table of contents in Microsoft Word for your eBook. Check out my blog at for more information about eBook formatting.

  4. 4  Metadata


    In the digital age, the metadata that is embedded in your ebook and is the equivalent of your bookshop shelfspace. It is very important that you devote some thought and planning to what you enter if you want your writing to be visible. Keywords Keywords increase the visibility of your books.

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The following is a quote from the Smashword Style Guide:

How Ebook Formatting is Different from Print Formatting 

Ebooks are different from print books, so do not attempt to make your ebook look like an exact facsimile of print book, otherwise you’ll only frustrate yourself by creating a poorly formatted, unreadable ebook.

With print, you control the layout. The words appear on the printed page exactly where you want them to appear.

With ebooks, there is no “page.” By giving up the control of the printed page, you and your readers gain much more in return.

Page numbers are irrelevant. Your book will look different on every e-reading device. Your text will shape shift and reflow. Most e-reading devices and e-reading applications allow your reader to customize the fonts, font sizes and line spacing. Your customers will modify how your book looks on-screen to suit their personal reading preference and environment.
By transforming your books into digital form, you open up exciting possibilities for how readers can enjoy them.

At Smashwords, our motto is “your book, your way,” and this means a reader should be able to consume your book however works best for them, even if that means they like to read 18 point Helvetica with blue fonts, lime background color, and triple spaced lines. Many e-reading devices and e-reading apps support some or all of these strange different tastes.

In order for us to prepare your words to be stirred up and reconstituted in this digital soup, it’s important your Smashwords source file is formatted to liberate the words in digital form.

The book’s formatting will be and must be different from its paper-based formatting and layout (for some works like poetry, the formatting is integral to the reading experience, and we can work with that too).

Most readers want your words, not your fancy page layout or exotic type styles. This is especially important for your ebook customers, because you want your work to display well on as many digital reading devices as possible so the reader can have their book their way. Some of your buyers may want to read on the Amazon Kindle, others may prefer to read on the iPhone or Sony Reader, or even read on multiple devices. Others may want to just read it on screen using one of the several e-reading applications, such as Adobe Digital Editions or FBReader.”