Will HTML5 be the death of PDF magazines?

Do you still read magazines? Newspapers? If so, are they printed publications or have you gone digital?

With the wild popularity of the iPad and the predicted stampede for the Kindle Fire (not to mention all the other tablets hitting the market) there has been a headlong rush by many publishers to get onto these new devices and do it fast.

So far, most seem to have gone the PDF route. It’s easy to understand why. They’re probably already developing their print publications in InDesign so it’s a relatively easy step to output a version to PDF. Plus Adobe have done a pretty good job of helping publishers add some nice bells and whistles (check out Wired’s iPad edition to see what I mean).

But PDF isn’t the only option. And some would say – myself included – that it isn’t the best option either. Of course, you won’t be surprised to hear me claim that HTML5 offers significant advantages over PDF.

So here are four reasons why I think HTML5 trumps PDF for digital magazines:

  1. A major advantage is file size. An HTML5-based publication will come in at something between a tenth and a fifth of the size of a PDF one. So this means less waiting for users and less space taken up on their devices.
  2. Text can remain live (rather than simply rendering as an image) so you can zoom in as much as you like with no pixilation (it also means you can select, copy and paste text should you want).
  3. Because the text is live, you can search it too.
  4. And then there’s the whole cross-platform thing. Sure you can scale a PDF to different screen sizes but that just makes everything bigger or smaller. With HTML you can scale in a more intuitive way that’ll preserve text sizes for easy reading (no matter how small your screen).

It’ll be really interesting to see how this market develops. While the iPad is the runaway leader at the moment, the Kindle Fire could mount a pretty serious challenge with access to all of Amazon’s content (and it’s own dedicated magazine store).

The new KF8 format on the Fire supports both HTML5 and CSS3 – some 150 formatting styles if Amazon is to be believed (full list here). This means publishers can take full advantage and produce some serious eye candy without file-bloat.

So will HTML5 be the death of PDF magazines? In truth, it’ll probably be a mixed bag while everyone finds their feet. But in the long run, my money is on HTML5.

What do you think?

Further reading

  1. InterfaceLab has a good article (although it is over a year old): Is this really the future of magazines or why didn’t they just use html 5?
  2. The Guardian has a good round up of Apple Newsstand which covers some of the issues around PDFs: Apple Newsstand: can it crack the news market?
  3. Elliot Jay Stocks has a good post on his blog (unless you’re from Adobe that is): Adobe's digital publishing mistake – the comments are particularly interesting
Comments (2)

  1. 2 quick points:

    1) PDF is a vector passed format so unless the text is entered as an image it will scale when you change the zoom level

    2) And also, unless the text is entered as an image it's searchable too!

  2. Luan says:

    Hi, i really like your post. The Shmuel Englard is correct in both points!

    Beside that, anybody know any "cms" for a html5 magazine ? I need to make a ipad/android/smartphone and printing magazine. I really think already is some well made stuff around, i just don't know them.

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