Apple’s Pages ePub Export: First Look

by | Sep 1, 2010

Does it seem like you have to be a programmer to get your book into the ePub format? Sometimes it does. As a print designer, I’ve never learned much HTML, CSS or any of the other standards that are second nature to web designers, and the foundation of ePub.

We’re fortunate to have a lot of skillful designers and service providers who do know those things, and we rely on them to produce the really good ePub books that are being produced today.

But having to deal with programming languages seems like a real step backwards for authors who want to be as self-sufficient as they can without becoming coders themselves.

It’s WYSIWYG All Over Again

The first tools that appeared to help mere mortals create websites used the language of page layout programs to announce how WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) they were. Many of these programs were incredibly frustrating to use and unpredictable in what you would really get at the end.

Conversion of ePub files seems to be at a similar stage. New tools are arriving in the market frequently with ePub capabilities. A few months ago I looked at Storyist, an idiosyncratic word processor with a pretty capable ePub export function.

Now, Apple has brought similar ePub conversion for dummies to their Pages word processing and layout program (affiliate link). The announcement was accompanied by the publication of a one-page document on Apple’s Support site: Creating ePub files with Pages

Here’s a sample:

Summary: ePub is an open ebook standard produced by the International Digital Publishing Forum. Pages ’09 lets you export your documents in ePub format for reading with iBooks on iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. iBooks supports both ePub and PDF file formats, and you can export both from Pages.

There are some step-by-step instructions on the most basic level, but very little other information. There’s no documentation I could find other than the sample styled document you can download and use as a template for your ePub book.

However, having ePub export as a menu pick on a word processor is pretty exciting. Although Storyist probably has a small market of serious writers, Pages is a fluid and easy to use layout program that’s also ideally suited to the iPad’s touchscreen interface. It encourages direct contact with the media, text blocks and formatting in your documents.

The 15-Minute Spin. Make That 30

Coincidental with Apple’s announcement I found we had an installable copy of iWork ’09, with Pages, and promptly installed and upgraded the program to get the new version.

I decided to see if I could export a working ePub file in 15 minutes. If I could, maybe it would mean that ePub was on its way to becoming a standard, a simple and reliable way to publish not just books but any document you might want to load onto your iPad or your Sony Reader and take along with you. That would be neat.

I grabbed a document I was working on that was formatted and had some paragraph styles assigned to text elements. Using paragraph styles throughout your document is important to your ePub file at the end.

I put a photo on the first page to act as a “cover” and adjusted some of the styles to look better in Pages. Here’s what it looked like:

self-publishing epub ebooks

Click to enlarge

Once I had the file looking okay—remember, this was supposed to be short and sweet—I saved it and selected File / Export and clicked the ePub tab:

self-publishing ePub ebooks

Click to enlarge

You’ll notice right away that the metadata entry here is hopelessly incomplete. I’m looking to find out if there’s a way to get a proper metadata set into the Pages ePub export, but that was beyond the scope of this test, so I moved on.

My first attempt yielded some errors:

self-publishing epub ebooks for ibooks

Click to enlarge

Of course the “floating object” that was removed was the photo I had dragged-and-dropped into the Pages file. This type of easy document creation is one of the program’s strong points. But for ePub conversion, all graphics have to be “in-line.” So I went back, deleted the photo, put the typing cursor at the very beginning of the file and pasted the graphic back in. This time the file exported without errors.

Over to the iPad

Now that I had a ePub file, I plugged in my iPad and used the File / Add to Library command in iTunes to select the file. iTunes knows exactly what to do with an ePub file, so my work was done. I hit the “Sync” button and in a couple of seconds I was ready to go.

I started up iBooks and there was my new ePub sitting on the iBookstore shelf waiting for me.

self-publishing ibooks epub

And the book didn’t look too bad. Here’s a sample of one of the pages.

self-publishing for ibookstore and ipad

Click to enlarge

Although my title didn’t break onto a new page the way I wanted it to, and the links, which look good, don’t actually link to anything, this is not bad for a first attempt.

My title was properly positioned and the color carried over fine. My subtitles retained their formatting, and even the numbered list with italic run-ins and hanging indents didn’t look too bad. I resisted the desire to pat myself on the back.

In order to actually sell books in the iBookstore your files will have to pass epubcheck 1.0.5 validation. There’s an ePub validating tool at Threepress Consulting and the file from Pages passed without a problem.

Where To From Here?

Ebooks are on their way to becoming a standard, and expected part of the publishing universe. Every publisher I talk to now is asking about incorporating digital formats into their production process. And why shouldn’t they?

The appearance of consumer-level tools like Pages as an option to self-publish to this rapidly-expanding market is good news. While it may be suitable to only basic layouts right now, this export looks like it will handle a large percentage of text-only books quite capably. I plan to take some time to drill down into Pages capabilities and see just how much control it will give us over this ePub conversion.

Would you be interested in an easy-to-use ePub converter?

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Hilary Custance Green

    Thanks for this. I self-published back in 2008 and am thinking of having another go, but will obviously want an e-book as well as print. As a Mac-based person, it sounds as though Pages may be the answer. I am very grateful for you info on this and shall need to drop in regularly as I go through the process.

  2. Maru Ririnui

    Hello Joel,

    I arrived at your blog following a Google search for exporting in ePub format from Pages and I remained on the site for an hour or so enjoying your content and the value-enhancing comments of your followers.

    I just wanted to say thanks and congratulations. This is really something. It’s no doubt doing wonders bridging the gap between bloggers (and web people in general) and the modern publishing industry.

    [I’m a web guy with a camera and a few ideas that I’m going to get out there in electronic formats and I’m going to start with Pages so thanks again]

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Maru. It’s been an interesting time to be writing about indie publishing, and shows no signs of letting up.

  3. Helen Mills


    I found this article very informative. I’m just learning about self publishing and epublishing and wondering if once you have created your book in Pages is there an epub site that will print on demand for me? I am “testing” Booksmart by now and find it very limited in its ability to allow creation of simple graphic elements so I’m looking for alternatives. Thanks for any information or thoughts you might have for me.

  4. doug drown

    thanks Joel, I am pleased to have found this conversation. I am learning pages epub, own copyright to 35 hard cover history books that i need to convert to epub.

    I need to scan and OCR 35 books @ 260 pages each, so I may have to find someone overseas to ocr and give me text. Since i need jpgs of all the images, this will be a task

    Any suggestions?


    • Joel Friedlander

      Doug, a big project for sure. I would definitely check with Lightning Source, the POD printer. I had a book scanned there and converted to a PDF (not OCR) and put it up for sale. They charge $.25/page, which is incredibly inexpensive from my point of view.

      If you absolutely need to OCR it will be expensive and time-consuming, particularly the clean-up after scanning.

      Hope that helps

  5. Carla King

    I used the Smashwords-formatted file I created from MS Word and modified that for Kindle. The two formats are very close.

  6. Andras Nagy

    Great article, not being an apple savvy publisher (just bought my MacMini) I am going through the pains of conforming to apple’s stringent 1.0.5 requirement. I am currently using Sigil, Calibre and pdftoepub tool to publish. I am looking for a simple tool that converts Kindle format to ePub 1.0.5 that is powerful enough to pay money for… Is there something like that? My main business is still Kindle and B&N Nook and what I have is sufficient. I am not a power user for my mini mac so I rather buy some tool for the PC. (no offense :)

    P.S. I have 5 books on the iBookstore and due to obvious reasons sales are nothing like B&N or Kindle. Apple better get your @@&*^^ together!

    Andras Nagy (author of The Public Domain Publishing Bible)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Andras, I don’t know of a tool to convert Kindle files to ePub, but I believe a lot of the people who do conversions do the ePub first then adapt it for the Kindle. Have you had a look at Joshua Tallent’s book Kindle Formatting? It might help.

      As far as Apple is concerned, I believe the difficulty passing verification and other concerns have persuaded a lot of publishers to use a third party like Smashwords or Bookbaby to get into the iBookstore. Just a thought.

      • Andras Nagy

        Thanks for the replies. I have over 100-books in print or eFormat, some are public domain so smashword is out of the question. I have just made some breakthrough on figuring out the ins and outs of Calibre and hence I can now fix the errors in forms of unmanifested files. I am an ex IT(web programmer) so I will try to cut out the middlemen. I am still wondering how is that B&N sells so well and plenty of ePub formats and Apple is not, it must be the device or some specifics they are after. Time will tell. I am betting on Apple for the long run but I always hedge my bets…

  7. Charlene Tess

    Dear Joel,
    I really enjoyed your article and all of the question and answer posts. I have used Pages to export to ePub several times with great success except for one problem My final document (when I read it on my iPhone) always has extra blank pages in it. I don’t understand why since such pages do not show up in the Pages document before the export. Any ideas?

  8. Robbin Block

    I was just thinking that I should update to iWork ’09 to get the ePub option, but there are rumors flying around that say that Apple will be offering a iWork ‘ll with the opening of their Apple apps store on January 6th. Think I’ll wait a bit before I invest.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Robbin, that sounds interesting. Although Pages in this version will output to ePub, it’s pretty rudimentary and it would be great if they build in more robust tools.

  9. stephen

    I’m trying to get embedded audio into an ePub file that will play on an iPad. I’m hearing it can be done and I’m checking out Liz Castro’s book. I’ve been able to create eBook files that work on Adobe Digital Edition, but so far I haven’t been able to get an embedded audio file to work.

    Thanks in advance.


  10. Ajay Jain

    Hi Joel,

    Very enlightening! Thanks for the effort of putting this stuff up.

    I have a problem: My books have been designed using software life QuarkXpress (not by me, by a professional designer). And what I have handy are PDFs. But when publishing these as ePub, all the formatting goes haywire. Is there a way to convert PDF to ePub without losing the formatting?

    Thanks for any help in advance.

    Cheers… Ajay

  11. james kiehle

    Thank you for this well-written, easy to follow posting. Of all the things I’ve read, this one makes it painless… and my epub passed the first time out!
    My question is… I want to test it. Can I just run a test or do I need to upload the entire book?

    • Joel Friedlander

      James, you can test it by opening the file in Calibre, free software that reads and converts between ebook formats. If you have an iPad you can also upload your file to iTunes then sync your iPad to read your book in the iBooks application. Good going!

      • Andras Nagy

        In my experience Calibre will mess up your epub files and will render it useless. Apple itself warns people not to use it! I sped hours fixing the files outputted by Calibre (using sigil) and one mistake (using the epub viewer) will place unmanifested file in your epub which will have to be manually removed. I cannot even do that using Sigil!!

  12. Thatkeith

    What’s particularly interesting about using Pages for EPUB production is that the format suits a styles-savvy word processor rather better than a full-blown DTP tool such as InDesign. The restrictions of word processors are almost complementary to the ebook format.
    I use InDesign too. I hate Word with a holy passion, but I have it. For me, Pages is a much friendlier and more logical word processor. (But them, I’m lucky enough to originate most text that I deal with rather than having to juggle documents in workgroups.)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Keith, that’s really interesting. I could see how the limitations of Pages would play well with the EPUB format, hadn’t thought of that. As far as Word is concerned, I originate virtually none of the text I work with since it comes from clients, so Word is the easy choice. I also like it’s very powerful search/replace engine which comes in handy when you are massaging 100,000 word files regularly.

      Ironically, I wouldn’t use it for actual writing, it’s the wrong tool for me. I’ve totally gone over to Writer. Thanks for your input.

  13. Thatkeith

    Joel, it would be really worth taking some time to become more familiar with Pages as a word processor then trying this test again. It has its weak spots, like everything else, but, for example, you can switch a graphic (and other object types) from floating to inline and back again with a click in the Inspector palette. With a little practice you’d find you go much faster than in your first experiment. I suspect you’d also come to rather like it as a general-purpose word processor and basic layout tool, quite apart from the ePub export feature. :-)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Keith, thanks for the advice. My workflow at the moment involves Word and InDesign, so I don’t have much occasion to use Pages. It does seem very capable at handling graphics, and I’ll keep your tips in mind when I go back in to do a more complex EPUB export, which I plan to do. Thanks for the encouragement!

  14. Printmonkey

    Very useful article Joel – thanks. Have given Pages 9.0.4 a try and it exports to my iPhone really well. One strange thing though, when I import the same ePub file into Adobe Digital Editions or Sony Reader Library apps, the title pages disappear unless I deselect the ‘Use first page as book cover image option’ ! Anyone else noticed this ?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Ian, I have no experience with that, but perhaps someone else will chime in. I do recommend Liz Castro’s book that I reviewed here when it came out, EPUB Straight to the Point if that’s of any help.

      I think your project of doing a letterpress book is fascinating, and I’d love to hear more about it as it develops. Thanks for your comment.

  15. The Keen

    Just thought I’d throw my 2 cents in. I’ve been playing with the ePub export since it was included in the recent Pages update and I’ve been thoroughly impressed. One feature that has been awesome for me as a high school Music teacher looking to create an ebook for music theory is the ability to embed audio examples. I saw the earlier comment about this coming in ePub2, but as for the iPhone and iPad, this works now!
    The only thing that bothers me is the book cover…no matter what I do, I can’t seem to escape the extra-wide white margins around the book graphic (pasted inline on the first page). If anyone has any suggestions, let me know (please!)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Keen, thanks for your comment. I’ve been experimenting with Pages’ epub conversion and will be writing more about it. I’ll try to find an answer to your query, if someone else doesn’t reply first.

  16. Mel Brown

    Thanks for the article Joel. I’ve been experimenting with editing metadata in iTunes for some time time now. I’ve been interested to see how much metadata edited in iTunes actually travels with various files to other machines. Today I tried the ePub export and had no problems. The lack of a proper metadata set is troubling and I hope this is addressed in Pages soon. I think the ISBN is the most important piece of info for any ebook so as a temporary workaround I added my ISBN, ISBN13 and SAN numbers in iTunes “Album” column. I don’t know if this will ultimately do any good but at least the number is attached to the file, and it seems to travel too. I’m really a novice at this and it’s only a suggestion until better tools become available. Thanks again.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Mel, thanks for the info. I don’t know whether using iTunes to put metadata into an iBook is going to work, but I would be very interested in what you find out. This was the biggest mystery to me in the Pages ePub export, and just inexplicable. I’m researching this and hope to have more to write about in a more extensive article. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. Karen Henrich

    Thank you for this article Joel. I have been testing Pages and exporting my ebook transcript with it, however am presently wrestling the linkable Table of Contents feature. I can’t seem to make it work. If you have any tips on that, I’m all ears! I can’t see any special tips from the sample doc Apple provides.

    • Joel Friedlander


      You need to use the Chapter Title paragraph style that’s included in the template document. Here’s what the (very brief) documentation says:

      Use the Chapter Name style to clearly label each chapter or section in your publication. Chapter names are displayed in the Table of Contents. Tapping a chapter name in the Table of Contents navigates to the corresponding chapter.

      Hopefully there will be some documentation from Apple explaining in more detail how to do this.

      Hope that helps.

  18. Carla King

    Wow Joel, as per usual you are right on top of it! Thanks for the test. I’m looking forward to a more in-depth exploration of this process soon.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey Carla, thanks for your comment. Yes, I’m looking forward to putting this puppy through its paces. I’ll have a more in-depth look at Pages conversion as I work through it.

  19. Tom Evans

    Thanks for being ahead of the curve once again Joel and showing the way. I can’t wait for ePub2 when you can put images where you want and embed audio and video …

    • Joel Friedlander

      Glad to help out Tom, I’m really fascinated by some of the new tools that are going to make self-publishing even easier, faster and less expensive than ever before. And yes, ePub2 sounds like just the thing . . . Thanks for stopping by!



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