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In early 2016 we find ourselves at an interesting place in the co-evolution of electronic document and digital publishing technologies.
The printed page, and its PDF electronic equivalent, continues to grow even as web technologies create new vehicles of communication and interaction.
Web technologies clearly dominate dynamic content, and that is as it should be. As such, many websites are essentially navigation systems to help users find the PDF document they need. Once the author”s work is finished, however, most documents are not dynamic. To meet their need for self-contained, sharable, static content, individual human users create billions of PDF documents daily, while machines make, transform and deliver many billions more.
Although there is significant overlap between PDF and the web stack of HTML/CSS/JavasScript, the technologies are compatible, but not comparable. PDF has its place, as does the classical web stack. Neither is a capable replacement for the other.
Although preceded by PostScript and AFP, PDF was the first page description technology to deliver an electronic page that matched the core features of paper.
A cross-platform page-painting, PDF pages can contain any two-dimensional content, from billboard artwork to financial statements to textbooks to prescription-bottle labels. Since PDF is self-contained on a page level, pages from various sources are readily combined or exchanged.
Achieving feature parity with paper allowed PDF to take on qualities that are vital to business documents but elude web technology, including fixed layouts, pagination, redaction, annotation, standardized navigation, page-spanning content and more.
At the same time PDF delivers a digital publishing solution that not only meets the most stringent requirements for print-ready content, but offers a reliable means of delivering carefully designed and laid-out content, and thus a means of generating revenue.
The dynamic aspects of web content, although vital to the experience of websites, hasn’t diminished the utility of PDF. The Portable Document Format’s feature-set remains essential.
EPUB is a specification for using web technologies to deliver a self-contained set of web-pages in a single file.
The premise is clear and compelling web-like capabilities are familiar and desirable to users, and publishers have lots of rich content to deliver.
EPUB was designed for delivery of publishers web-like content in a portable manner, and it excels at this task. The typical use-cases for EPUB documents include novels, content designed expressly for small-screens and other content with limited, straightforward layout requirements.
Certainly, PDF can perform well on smaller screens in a variety of ways, but EPUB can deliver smooth results in this context without complex structuring or specialized layouts.
If your readers will prefer EPUB, give them EPUB. If they will prefer PDF, give them PDF. If they prefer a choice of PDF or EPUB, then give them that choice.
Although not every document is best delivered as PDF, there are many functional requirements for electronic documents that PDF alone can satisfy: