Backward EPUB book exported from InDesign


I recently exported an EPUB document from InDesign only to discover that the exported ePUB book displayed backward.

Here’s how to fix this technical backward EPUB issue.

The exported ebook is over 700 pages and includes dozens of embedded videos and dozens of audio clips. Most importantly, this book requires a fixed layout.

I’m an Apple-based designer, so my InDesign exported ebooks automatically open in Apple’s Books application and just work. However, the same epub file does not work in most other epub readers, especially on PCs.

To my surprise (and appall), finding a cross-platform epub reader intended for this type of book was challenging! In fact, Adobe’s Digital Editions only worked to open the InDesign exported ebook on a Mac; Adobe Digital Editions wouldn’t even open the ebook on a PC. (The Adobe tech team said they knew about the error but were discontinuing Adobe Digital Editions, so they were not going to fix it).

One of the most confusing issues I ran into was that my book was backward in many ebook readers. The book literally opened with page 1 on the right and page 2 on the left; the reading order was right to left, instead of left to right.

Fixing this issue took a little sleuth work, but this is how I did it:

  1. The issue is that InDesign exported the .EPUB file with two language declarations. Some readers used the first language declaration (Arabic, a right to left language, RTL), others used the second language declaration (English, a left to right language, LTR).
  2. Deleting the Arabic language declaration fixed the issue.
  3. An .EPUB extension is actually a bundle of files, like a zip file. To change this setting you need to access the .ocf file within the epub file directory.
  4. On Macs, I recommend the free app called eCanCrusher. It’s an app that you simply drag your epub file into and it will “unzip” the epub file giving you a folder with all the contents. You can also drag that same “unzipped” folder back onto the eCanCrusher icon to change the folder back into an .epub extension.
  5. Once your .EPUPB file is converted to a folder, open the directory named OEBPS and the individual file inside called content.opf in a code editor or text editor such as TextEdit or Visual Studio.
  6. In my file, the 12th and 13th lines both declare languange declarations shown as dc:language. In my case, removing the entire first line that includes ar-SA fixes the reading order issue. ar-SA stands for Arabic (Saudi Arabia) which is read RTL, right to left.

7. To turn your folder back into an .EPUB extension, drag the folder back over the eCanCrusher icon. Test your updated epub file in the ebook reader of your choice.

eCanCrusher Drag and Drop Video

Don’t be confused by eCanCrusher. Open Applications and then drag/drop the file onto the icon.

If this doesn’t fix it for you, there is also an Adobe Forum thread that gives a bit of insight into language and spine page progression direction that might help you out.

Best Cross-Platform Ebook Reader for Fixed Layout Ebooks

After trying many ebook readers, I found that only Thorium Reader by EDRLab displays my Indesign exported interactive fixed-layout ebook precisely as intended on both PCs running Windows 10+ and Macs. (The Thorium tech team is also VERY responsive too. Thanks, EDRLab engineers!)

If this helps you out, let me know in the comments!

For more InDesign tips, like how to sort out text threading, keep exploring the blog!

Happy Designing!

About the author

Kelly Barkhurst

Designer to Fullstack is my place to geek out and share tech solutions from my day-to-day as a graphic designer, programmer, and business owner (portfolio). I also write on Arts and Bricks, a parenting blog and decal shop that embraces my family’s love of Art and LEGO bricks!

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