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Used InDesign to export your ebook and now can’t upload it ’cause it’s “encrypted”? Here’s why.

ePub LogoIn the past couple of weeks, I’ve had three separate friends come to me grumbling about not being able to upload their ebooks because the ebook site tells them the files are encrypted.

“Did you export the ePub file from InDesign?” I ask.

“Yeah,” they say. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Everything,” I answer….

This is a classic problem that folks run into with InDesign conversion — Adobe’s a font foundry as well as a software company, and so when you embed fonts while converting from ID, it automatically obfuscates them. Essentially, it encrypts them so that only a person with the license to use that font on that machine can open the ebook. So most ebook sites won’t allow you to upload a file with obfuscated fonts. (They just don’t tell you that. They say the file’s “encrypted.” That’s helpful!)

There are ways to turn obfuscation off in the ePub file after it’s been generated — but that’s not necessarily the best answer.

The thing to remember about embedded fonts is that unless you’ve created a fixed-format ebook, the users’ preferences will usually trump whatever typographic adjustments you’ve made. Base font size, typeface — all of those are settable by the reader. Some ereaders and ereader apps have a setting to “Use Publisher’s Fonts” — Kindle for iOS does, for example — but even then, if the user has set their typeface preference to Palatino, say, or Comic Sans (:shudder:), the whole book will display in that. At that point, the fonts are adding size your file for no reason. In the case of Amazon, that means that the publisher is paying a few pennies more “transport fee” for each download, and buyers have to wait another few milliseconds for the book to download, and all for nothing.

So except in special cases — basically decorative drop-caps or headers, or in fixed-format books — I’ve generally stopped embedding. I use CSS instead to suggest fonts, always ending with the option “serif,” “san-serif,” “monotype,” or “handwriting.” Here for example is the body text style for an ebook that I did recently:

Normal {
font-family: 'Adobe Caslon Pro',Caslon,'Adobe Garamond Pro',Garamond,Palatino,'Times New Roman',Times,Cochin, serif;
font-size: 12pt;
line-height: 1.2;
font-weight: normal;
font-style: normal;
text-align: justify;
text-indent: 2em;

That way the ereader will use the first option that I give it that it has available — unless the user has stated a different preference, in which case there’s nothing to be done.

You can turn off font embedding in the dialogue box when you export from InDesign. Go to the “advanced” tab. You’ll see a collection of check boxes labeled “CSS Options”:

Just uncheck the “Include Embeddable Fonts” box, and InDesign won’t add the fonts to the ebook file. (You can always add them later if you want.)

The other point to consider is that font licenses don’t usually allow distribution through ebooks — not even free fonts. So by sending the fonts out un-obfuscated, you’re breaking your license agreement and, essentially, pirating the fonts. See this guest post by type designer David Bergsland on Joel Friendlander’s excellent resource for self- and independent publishers, TheBookDesigner.com for more info.

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