Cookie policy: This site uses cookies (small files stored on your computer) to simplify and improve your experience of this website. Cookies are small text files stored on the device you are using to access this website. For more information please take a look at our terms and conditions. Some parts of the site may not work properly if you choose not to accept cookies.

Join

Subscribe or Register

Existing user? Login

Why we have removed PDFs

  • Print
  • Share
  • Comments (5)
  • Save
  • Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

Since the launch of the new Pharmaceutical-journal.com platform in July 2014, a number of our users have been requesting us to bring back the PDF files, especially for Learning and CPD articles. While we have been trying to answer those queries on a case-by-case basis, I thought maybe we should explain our rationale for the decision not to include PDF files of the articles that already exist online.

Our digital-first strategy

Adopting a digital-first strategy is not an option or a matter of taste, it is the only way forward for publishers. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know that without digital first, we will not be ready for a future that has already begun.

People are consuming content in different ways. Mobile devices and tablets of varying sizes and with various operating systems and user interfaces have become more and more common. In 2012 only 11 per cent of our readers used a smartphone or tablet to access our content on our platform. In 2014 so far, the rate of mobile usage for accessing our content has increased to nearly 40% and everything indicates that this ratio is only going to rise. LionelBarber, the Editor of  Financial Times, acknowledged this at the beginning of 2013when he said:  “We need to ensure that we are serving a digital platform first, and a newspaper second. This is a big cultural shift for the FT that is only likely to be achieved with further structural change.”   ( The Guardian )

Digital first means that publishers would need to prepare their content in a way that can be picked up by any publishing solution and rendered into a format suitable for a specific or generic delivery method. In other words, in a digital first paradigm, each piece of content should be created only once, and used in various ways. 

It means that one thinks about platforms rather silos, and multiple usage rather than single usage. It appreciates the fact that readers/users have diverse requirements, needs and demands, and therefore content, as part of a platform, should be created in a way so it can serve all these various demands. In the traditional publishing strategy, the publishers and the editors decided on how to shape the content and how the content should be delivered and consumed. In a digital first world, publishers and readers/users share the role of shaping and delivering content, and users have more control and power on how they would like to consume content. Publishers deliver content, but also empower readers to decide on how to consume it.

PDFs do not allow such flexibility. Yes, you can download them, sort them, read them offline, attach them to an email (which you shouldn’t, unless you get the publisher’s permission), and they are definitely useful for producing print publications.

However, they have a fixed layout, specific to a single page size (eg. A4). They cannot be resized automatically for the size of the medium a reader is using. A PDF file is what it is. Not responsive to any change or any customisation. They cannot be readily converted into other formats, and rendered by other applications. If you are reading an article on the small screen of a smartphone, the text in a PDF does not flow.

The layout of a PDF file is based on a print grid, so, if well designed, they look great on a printed medium (just take a look at our new print redesign of The Pharmaceutical Journal ). But they don’t look as great on a small tablet.

PDFs do not allow such flexibility. Yes, you can download them, sort them, read them offline, attach them to an email (which you shouldn’t, unless you get the publisher’s permission), and they are definitely useful for producing print publications.

On-screen reading

A number of our users have complained that they do not like reading on screen and prefer to read everything on paper. Yes, we are all going to miss our print books, our bookshelves, and our magazine collections. Probably when the long-enduring skin parchments where replaced by the thin and easily destructable papers, readers were as unsatisfied. And when the beautifully hand-written and calligraphed books were replaced by mass-printed books, probably readers where not quite happy and missed the personal touch that hand-written books carried. The same way that when “email” started to take over from the hand-written “letters”, there was a great proportion of the population who refused to use emails.

But without the print industry, the world would have been in a different place. We wouldn’t have had millions and millions of books and articles that changed the world, and science and knowledge could not have been developed and disseminated the way it is today.

Print is probably not going to cease to exist, the same way that despite people driving cars, horse-riding is still a popular sport, albeit a luxury. But the amount of knowledge and information required to move humanity through the next phase of social evolution can no longer be accommodated by cutting down trees and destroying the environment. Even if we ignore the environment and if the trees grew as fast as they were cut down, the speed we need for disseminating knowledge can never be achieved on paper.

Even if we ignore speed of dissemination, the huge amount of data generated everyday in our planet, requires us to think differently. I have always said that one of the greatest inventions of humankind after the wheel, has been “hypertext”; the ability to “link” one piece of information to another piece of information. Which is now at the heart of the Semantic Web. This can be only achieved digitally. You cannot recreate the experience in print, where you cannot enrich your content with knowledge that already exists elsewhere.

So, my friends, it’s probably time to embrace this change and train our eyes. We are all going to read everything “on screen” very soon. So why not adapt, the same way our species has, over millons of years, to survive. We have the tools now. We have the web, we have desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones; and we have digital platforms and we have this great concept being quickly developed, called “big data”.

Why people like PDFs

People don’t really like PDFs. They like the features that PDF files provide (at the expense of other features they don’t). 

There are two features that PDFs provide:

  • Offline access
  • Sharability

And there are many features they do not provide that html format does:

  • Flexibility
  • Responsiveness to screen sizes
  • Ability to enrich content
  • Cross-linking (PDFs do this at a basic level, but not sufficiently to enable semantic enrichment)
  • Personalisation (where you can increase the font size on the web, you are stuck whith a precise font size in a PDF file)
  • Ability to render the same content on a different platform (eg, a native mobile app)
  • Being technology agnostic (you need a PDF reader for reading PDF files. But all browsers support html)
  • Accommodating latest changes, correction
  • All in all, PDFs are not future-proof
  • The PDF document’s aspect ratio and page size is not a good match for a computer screen. With PDF the user has no choice of line length. 
  • PDF limits the reader since it doesn’t work on all platforms - eg, handheld browsers. 
  • Reading PDF requires using third-party software and takes more computer power.
  • PDF information is less accessibile than HTML, for those with vision impairments.
  • PDF is designed for printing, not browsing or spreading information. So copy and pasting of text results in mixed up characters and paragraphs. 
  • Hyperlinks work badly. 
  • PDF files are usually larger than a simple HTML version.

So, with our html articles on the web, we have addressed all the features that PDFs offer, without including the PDFs:

  • Offline access:While with the 4G technology, we can expect continuous access to the Internet in near future, there will always be a need for offline access to content. For this purpose, you can choose which articles you would like offline access to, and you can print them on paper, or export them as PDF. We have designed the “print” format of our articles in a way that you can retain all the features, including crosslinks. All you need to do is to “print” to paper or PDF.
    • At the same time, you can download our PJ app to your tablet or smartphone. All the issues in our apps will be stored on your device once you download them and you can read them offline. Our app is available for the majority of tablets and smartphones.
  • Sharing:  You can easily share any article, using the share function within each article. You can email them or send them to your favourite social media. Some reader attach the PDF of an article to an email and send it to a friend. Well, we have worked very hard to create these articles and we would want them to be available to our subscribers really. They are our intellectual property, and sharing full articles with someone who is not elligible to receive that article based on our access rules could amount to piracy. We welcome pointing friends to the location of an article on our platform, and we have made access very easy by our “metered access” model.

Questions in CPD articles

As my colleague Chris Chapman, senior editor of learning, explained in his blog post ”Learning made easy ”, we have created interactive questionnaires to maximise your learning experience. You read a CPD article, you start answering questions on the module, and if you score more than 70%, you get a certificate that acknowledges your learning. You can download this certificate and it is also stored into the My CPD section of your account on pharmaceutical-journal.com. If you don’t pass the first time, you can take the test two more times.

A few readers have mentioned that they would prefer the questions to be included in a downloadable PDF, so they can answer them at their spare time on paper, and then take the online module. However, concept behind designing these modules is to measure your knowledge about a topic, after reading the article; in other words, the knowledge you take away. Having the questions listed in a PDF file where you can look for answers within the article will not enable us to assess and certify your knowledge. We expect you to read the articles, then take the survey. The result will show how much information you have absorbed. So, apologies for the inconvenience, but this is how our learning modules work. The upside is that if you pass the test, you can be proud that you have retained the knowledge necessary for diagnosing and managing a condition. It’s like a “semi-closed-book” exam, to be done at your convenience rather than at a set time and place.

Maybe it’s worth saying that the modules are responsive to small screens, so you don’t need to sit at your desk to participate. You can take the tests on your smartphones too.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Regardless of every justification in this article, I still see absolutely no reason why this html format AND the pdf format cannot be available.

    There will always be those of us who are old fashioned, those with difficulty staring at computer screens, those who just prefer the pdf format. Why? Because the layout of the articles in the original pdf format were just nicer altogether, it was easier to print multiple pages on a single piece of paper, some browsers, if not most don't offer that functionality that third party pdf viewers do. And if you say that having html format removes the need for third party software (a la pdf viewing software), what if I do need to print multiple pages via my browser? I'm sure the general lay person does not know.

    Third party pdf viewing software had all these options and more, sure you couldn't re-size pdfs, but really, how much more difficult is it to just zoom into a certain part of a pdf on your laptop, your smartphone?

    You say that not all browsers support pdf, that is wrong. All browsers do support pdf viewing, and if they do not, it is a simple plugin away, if you do not reach that point, the browser will automatically ask if you'd like to save the pdf, and 99% of OEM computers these days have Adobe PDF reader as stock software. Why? Because people read pdfs.

    You say that pdfs take more computer power. Please tell me that if you are moving along with this day and age, what computer does not have an inkling of power to open a pdf in a third party software? I sure don't. In fact, I much preferred it as I do research my tabs on my browser become extremely cluttered to the point I can't read what each individual tab says (yes I can open them in different windows, but I group tabs based on the research subject). However, by opening all my pdfs in a pdf viewer, I have them conveniently there in a completely separate window.

    Now you refer to 'computer power' as if pdf viewing takes up a large chunk of processing. Would it, say, take up more CPU usage than listening to music via your favourite music application? No, I don't think so.

    How exactly do 'Hyperlinks' work badly in a pdf? I've read a surplus amount of pdfs and the hyperlinks work absolutely fine. You usually press control + left click your mouse for it to open the link. The same goes for any sort of word document. If you think that an extra button press in this day and age is time consuming, then you sir, are mistaken. Given the technology we have today, less button presses seems to be preferably, but how lethargic can we get from one or two extra button presses?

    You say a pdf is designed for printing, and not spreading information. Let me tell you a little story, a few months ago I had my final year exams, I used PJ online extensively, to the point it was my number one source for learning of certain diseases. I would find the disease topic, find the management, treatment, and background information pdfs, I would print them off, highlight them, and get together with fellow classmates and point out the important bits I have highlighted and talk about them.

    Now I understand you can do the exact same for html, but since you specifically mentioned that pdf information is more difficult to share, I will have to disagree. Pdf information is easy to share, and in my experience, a higher quality learning experience.

    How exactly are you stuck with a certain font size with a pdf? Pdfs are high quality formats, hence the higher amount of space they take. You can zoom in with zero pixelation, and you can essentially make the font as big as you want by zooming in. Referring back to the fact that they take up more space, yes, they do, however, since when is hard drive space an issue in this and age? It isn't. If you think that you're moving with the times, then you should understand that 1 gigabyte used to be the size of a watermelon 30-40 years ago, now, I can fit it in my pocket, as with thousands of pdfs.

    Pdfs are just as easy to use as html format, and your entire argument in this article dissolves on itself. You should know that there will always be those of us who are old fashioned and don't always like change, I am one of those people, as I'm sure there are plenty more.

    If today's world is about universality, please bring back pdfs and your loyal viewers will come back rolling in by the thousands.

    - Shane

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Thank you Shane for your comment. I see your points, although our research doesn't completely agree with it. As I said, an article can be published online long before the PDFs for the print version are created.
    Therefore it is impossible to add the print PDFs to the article, if we want a future-proof platform. However, we are already considering ways to allow readers to generate PDFs of online articles in a more seamless way. Keep tuned for the updates.

    Moreover, when I talk about computer power I'm not talking about one individual's computer. I am talking about hundreds of computers concurrently using the platform, slowing down the website's performance.

    Best,

    Arash

  • Dear Editor,
    One of the important positives of PDFs is the quality of the printed version. You mention it in 'our digital first strategy' but omit it from 'why people like pdfs'.
    Until the technology is there to be able to make notes in the margin, highlight, and then pass to someone else (in the spirit of group working amongst fee paying RPS members) as easy as it is with pen and paper, and it is available to everyone as freely, it will always be printed off to learn and develop from. We are not there yet but it may not be too long, I look forward to it. Is your mission to be the first to get it on there or to improve the knowledge of pharmacists, this takes time?
    The html pages can be printed as you say but tables and images are split between pages, adverts remain and I have 4 pages of comments on the HIV article - think of the trees! Please consider the needs of RPS feepayers and provide us with a printable format that is usable and limits the effect on the environment. You allude to this in your comment above, can you give us a timescale?
    I am happy to read news articles on-line, but learning and embedding knowledge is complex and individual. If only you could read an article take a quiz and then that knowledge is yours to take away. I take your point about looking for the answers but the more times you do that and the longer period of time you do that over the more embedded that knowledge is. The current set up does not give the articles nor the pharmacists the respect they deserve.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Dear James Dunlop,

    We have moved away from the print-first strategy. We understand that 500 years of design evolution in print has not translated into web yet. But continuing the print-first strategy (and subsequently making print PDFs available online) is not possible in a digital production world. We are creating a PDF generator that facilitates conversion of web pages to PDFs, but it is still not going to be the print PDFs. Many of articles are made available online many days before the print version is even laid out. We cannot add print PDFs at a later stage, since then our readers will see two different versions of an article depending on the date and time they view it. If you are an RPS member or a premium print subscriber, you can still use the print version of the same article when your issue arrives.

  • Dear Editor,

    Can you please make these article available as a PDF? If this went out to consultation before the unilateral decision, I am sure that most pharmacists would vote to have them available as PDF.

    Many thanks,

    Emma

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Hi Emma,

    We're currently reviewing exactly how we're offering content and I'll make sure your thoughts are taken into consideration.

  • I didn't have a problem with pdf files. However, I do have a problem with the alternative. It just doesn't work for me. I would really like the pdfs back.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Dear Ian Baxter,

    I'm afraid it's not possible to bring back the print PDFs to the web. Many of our articles are made available online many days before the print version is even laid out. We cannot add print PDFs at a later stage, since then our readers will see two different versions of an article depending on the date and time they view it. If you are an RPS member or a premium print subscriber, you can still use the print version of the same article when your issue arrives.

  • It's been 5 years since this article came out. Back then I was still considering if I wanted to study Pharmacy or not. I don't know if anyone will see this comment, but if you do please know that I think this reasoning is incredibly flawed and I strongly believe if you were to post this in 2019 you'll get the same reaction.

    Firstly, you have a print version of the journal. My housemate gets it in the post all the time. Unless you're printing using some proprietary file format, chances are you've already got the PDF version just sitting on your files. There is no reason why you can't let people download whole issues as PDFs on your website. You write, and I quote:-

    "In a digital first world, publishers and readers/users share the role of shaping and delivering content, and users have more control and power on how they would like to consume content. Publishers deliver content, but also empower readers to decide on how to consume it."

    "It appreciates the fact that readers/users have diverse requirements, needs and demands, and therefore content, as part of a platform, should be created in a way so it can serve all these various demands."

    I agree wholeheartedly, these two quotes are reason enough to make the pdf versions available to download for those who want it. But if it isn't, read on.

    You claim that PDFs are not future-proof. Perhaps it looked that way back then. But I am from the future, and PDFs are definitely still alive and thriving. Technology has moved on. The most basic of modern PDF readers allows us to highlight and annotate. Apps like Liquid Text, Notability and a myriad of other apps allow PDFs to be manipulated as if it were paper, but better. I don't use PDFs because I'm old-fashioned; I use them because they are the future.

    Now, you may argue that articles already have a print-friendly download option which generates a PDF for you. That's true, but to get there, I have to:
    0. Connect to the Internet. Yes, it's 2019, but not everyone has a 4G-enabled tablet. Hotspot burns through battery life so that's not always an option.
    1. Sign into my account (which itself is a hassle my browsers can't recognise the login form and therefore doesn't save login information)
    2. Load up the article
    3. Select the PDF link
    4. Give the file a once over to make sure nothing unwanted is in there
    5. Download
    6. Import it into my desired reading app
    7. Repeat the whole process for the next article
    8. Move the article(s) into the relevant folder(s)
    It's a huge hassle, and that's the whole reason I've stopped reading the PhJ altogether. The mobile app used to let me download whole issues to read (which is better than nothing), but it got buggy and it's changed now. I need to be able to highlight, to annotate, to excerpt. It's a part of how I learn and assimilate information.

    Finally, I have read and re-read your article many times over and honestly, I can only think of two reasons why you maintain this current model. The first being piracy, in which case all you've done is create a "hassle gate" that makes it ever so slightly more difficult (unfortunately, not all your articles are worth pirating), but at the same time making it harder for everyone to consume your content in the way they would want. The second is advertising and traffic, things all platforms and blogs care about. I haven't noticed it initially, but my Adblock software is blocking 15 ads on this article alone. I don't have evidence to back this claim, all I can say is if this is indeed the true reason, I firmly believe that we deserve to know instead of going through all this theater. If not, I strongly urge you to reconsider and make PDF issues available to download.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

For commenting, please login or register as a user and agree to our Community Guidelines. You will be re-directed back to this page where you will have the ability to comment.

  • Print
  • Share
  • Comments (5)
  • Save
  • Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

Newsletter Sign-up

Want to keep up with the latest news, comment and CPD articles in pharmacy and science? Subscribe to our free alerts.