Apple created an example of the Fixed Format Layout…but no clear instructions on how to use it. This layout is used for children’s books, cookbooks, and other design-critical layouts. We cracked the code and plan on offering this service to our clients.

Liza at Threepress did a great post on how to work with these files: If you already work with the iBookstore, you’ll be able to download the sample file she refers to.

Another fabulous resource is Liz Castro’s book. She’s the author of the Pigs, Gourds, and Wiki’s website: (I like to think that I fit in well with these 2 ladies – the 3 ePub musketeers: Liz, Liza, and Lisa – HA!)

But this is just part of the puzzle. The next step is to use an ePub editor like Sigil (download here) to make your changes. You need to be very comfortable with CSS and HTML to make these changes. You’ll be working almost exclusively in code. The Apple-preferred method is to use text that’s exactly positioned on top of images.

The “magic” in a fixed format file is a little text file that tells Apple’s devices how to display it. It will act like any other book if you don’t have this file. Either use the file supplied by Apple, or create a new document in a text editor such as TextEdit, and then copy/paste the contents of the display options file into it. Then, save it as an .xml file with this exact name:

Here are the contents of the display options file:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<!-- Supported values for platform name: "*", "iphone", "ipad"; "iphone" applies to ipod touch as well; note all-lowercase -->
<platform name="*">
<!-- allowed values for "fixed-layout" are either "true" or "false" (with "false" as the default when unspecified) -->
<option name="fixed-layout">true</option>
<!-- allowed values for "open-to-spread" are either "true" or "false" (with "false" as the default when unspecified) -->
<option name="open-to-spread">false</option>
<platform name="iphone">
<!-- allowed values for "orientation-lock" are "portrait-only", "landscape-only", or "none" (with "none" as default when unspecified) -->
<option name="orientation-lock">none</option>

Next step is to unzip the epub, add Apple’s extension file to the META-INF folder:, and zip it back up. Here’s a link on how properly unzip and zip the ePub on a Mac: zip up an ePUB

So that’s all the steps! Now, if you’re intimidated by all this, cut your losses and let us convert your file starting at $15/page. In addition to your Apple version, you’ll get an epub appropriate for Nook and Kindle, two very different formats. This represents a time savings of hours.

On a lighter note, one of our clients wanted to see what a finished formatted children’s book looked like on the iPad. Lisa took a picture of one of the pages on the iPad. He asked again if he could see the “formatted” book on the iPad. Ironically, he thought we’d taken a picture of the PRINTED children’s book, uploaded the photo to the iPad, and then took a picture of the iPad. But it was the formatted ebook – it looks that cool on the screen – just like a printed book! How fun.

We’d love to work with you and help you make your publishing/writing/sales dreams come true! Now accepting books for conversion: fiction, non-fiction, textbooks, cookbooks, and YES! children’s books.

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2 thoughts on “Working with Apple’s Fixed Format Layout

  • February 18, 2012 at 6:11 am

    Thanks for the hints.
    I had to place some landscape pictures skiped by 90 degrees inside my ebook. And your post helped me from Apple’s automatic rotation sensor skipping the pictures back into the wrong position.

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