I left a fairly lengthy response on Tony Bates blog post about an issue he has been experiencing.
Tony used our instance of Pressbooks as the platform for his latest book, Teaching in a Digital Age. Tony noticed that the PDF version of the book had a problem with how the images were rendered. They were not in the correct flow of the text when the conversion from web to PDF happened in Pressbooks.
Pressbooks does the conversion from web to PDF better than most, but this is an issue we have been dealing with as part of our project. Images that are placed in the correct flow of a book in Pressbooks often get moved and pushed around in the PDF version of the book.
I understand the annoyance, but it illustrates beautifully the dichotomy of the borderlands we currently live in, straddling the digital and the analog worlds of publishing.
Here is my response.
Nate hits it on the head – these are the complexities involved in digital publishing as we straddle the world of print with the world of the web (and other digital formats). Digital publishing formats are fluid, and print formats are rigid. By choosing to use a publishing platform that values digital over print (and Pressbooks is designed to favour web over print), you are making a choice to value flexible over rigid.
However, as you have discovered, the two don’t play well. While Pressbooks and the PDF engine does an admirable job of creating an acceptable print ready document, you are still going to end up with having to compromise the layout of the rigid print for the flexible digital.
This is actually the biggest conceptual hurdle that most people moving from print based publishing to digital publishing have to contend with. It is often very disconcerting for those who have designed for the rigid formats of print to make the transition to the fluid world of digital. And they are often disappointed because they have to give up their pixel (or point in the print world) control and surrender to the fluid layouts of digital that put the user, not the publisher, in control of the appearance of the content.
The dilemma I have, as someone who is developing tools that attempt to straddle both worlds, is how can I satisfy the expectations of those who are accustomed and expecting rigid print, while still satisfy those who understand and expect the fluid digital. It is a heck of a challenge and someone is going to end up unhappy in the end, as you are seeing. Your book website looks great and works well. Your PDF (which I consider print, not digital as it enforces a rigid layout vs the digital flexible) is expecting rigid and cannot accommodate the digital flexible flow.
This is at the heart of why I find PDF so frustrating to work with. It appears to be digital, but is really analog hiding in a digital sheep’s clothing.
In the end, the decision is the author as to which compromise they are willing to make. Are they a digital publisher first making an analog version available out of convenience to those who still live in the analog world, in which case the PDF output would be acceptable. Or are they an analog publisher who wants to create rigid layouts (ie PDF and print) first with the web/ePub and digital publishing as the afterthought.