Daniel Sell

How to make PDFs accessible

There is nothing the roleplaying book industry loves more than a good oxymoron. Concerns over accessible PDFs, for example, have been batted around for yonks with everyone pitching in on how to make the large, slow, text garbling format play gently with screen readers and phones. Compress the images! Hyperlink everything! Flow the text! It’s ok, we’ve all been there but it’s time to let PDFs be what they were intended to be. Hand them over to the printers and give us poor hard done by readers something we can actually use. Bring out the ePubs (&c)! It works on every device you care to think of, there are enough ePub retailers to allow a healthy market and treatment for sellers and buyers (hi DriveThru), you can feed it through a text to speech program without a load of faff, they’re small, they’re customisable, they’re searchable, and on and on. EPubs are neat.

I’ll concede there is one solitary point one could possibly give to the PDF and that is fidelity to the book. However, PDFs are not, never have been and never will be books. Much like a photo of a person is not that person neither is a PDF a book. The creation of a book is more than a convenience, a sensible place to store data, it is a tactile object with layers of choices in paper and typefaces and processes that are lost the moment you load the print document on your phone. Let things be things.

And yes that bush we’ve been beating around is obviously this: we’ve ditched PDFs and replaced them all with professionally made ePubs which are available from literally everywhere including your local library.

But why not have both? While it’s true we will continue to make PDFs anyway as part of the book design process we believe that to make a real change we need to be all in. Books will be books, ePubs will be ePubs, and we’ll all catch up with mainstream publishers one day.