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Tips For Easing 5Mb PDF eBook File Downloads

Having a few problems!



9:49 pm on Sep 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Hi there

I run an education-based website and have been offering users free downloads of one of our ebooks, as a promo thing for one week only. I was happy with the uptake at first. I noticed that on average around 1500 downloads were made each day. However, when I double-checked the logs I noticed that up to 80% of the downloads were unsuccessful. Visitors had started downloading but either given up or been unable to download the files. How can I make the experience more successful for visitors? These were only small-ish files, between 5-6 MB (.PDF files).

Many thanks!


10:03 pm on Sep 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator coopster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Welcome to WebmasterWorld, matt52.

First thing you might want to do is show the user how large the file is by putting the file size next to the link. Another option may be to offer the PDF as an alternative option, perhaps a compressed (.zip) file download. The compressed version should significantly reduce the PDF size and be a welcome option to those in-the-know.


9:07 am on Sep 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

For people on twitchy dial-up connections, six-meg files are NOT small!

When my sister was living in a rural area, she couldn't download files that big, or even close to it. Even if she tried starting the download late in the evening, and leaving the computer running, she'd find the connection had been dropped some time in the night. It was simpler for me to download whatever files she needed, burn them onto a CD, and mail them to her.



12:14 pm on Sep 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You may also want to go back and check to see what settings were used to create the PDF files. 6 megs seems pretty big for an ebook. The biggest culprit of PDF bloat is images being saved at 300 dpi - which is great if you're having the PDF professionally printed at a print shop, but is overkill for a web-based document that most users will output from their desktop printer.


1:15 pm on Sep 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Give an option for the full download and then slice the book up into 4 or five sections for those on dial up seemed to work well. But yes 5 megs is huge for folks on dail up.

5 megs might not be that far of depending on size and how graphically intense the book is. We made a pdf version of a magazine that we put out for the site and a 40 page graphically intense article came out to 4+ megs with images saved at 96 dpi.


4:33 pm on Sep 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for the advice, I will definitely go back and look at the pdf settings again because the book is mainly text-based with very few images, so that's a good pointer!

I tried zipping one of the files (about 3.6 MB) with WinZip but it came out at a similar size (about 3.5 MB) which doesn't really help. Am I missing something with Winzip? In my experience it's great for zipping up multiple files and sending them or posting them online but I haven't found a way for it to significantly shrink the files. Any ideas?


5:53 pm on Sep 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Zipping and unzipping files can in some cases create headaches. You might consider providing a text-only version, in plain text, that would download quickly. The images could be posted on a page of your site where people could download the ones they wanted.


6:14 pm on Sep 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

The problem is that each page has a fixed layout because the books comprise photocopiable worksheets, so what a user downloads as a .pdf is ready-made and can be given out or photocopied straight away...


6:19 pm on Sep 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Make some Web pages they could print?


9:43 pm on Sep 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

This is very strange. I wonder if most of your visitors are using dialup? It's a 4 minute download for 1 mg. 20 for your pdf. Also, the newer Acrobat Readers have started opening the pdf's in the browser window, by default, i think. I don't recall this being the case 2 years ago. Maybe they are clicking the link, get a blank webpage wich just sits there as the pdf loads & don't realize there;s anything happening & give up. I'd say you should check out how this works by having other people w/ different types of service & OS's download your files & get a report back. 80% is extreme.


12:03 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Acrobat (the full version) has an 'optimise PDF' (or something like that) command.

That lets you control how big you want the file to be, versus image quality.

So you could provide your users with a choice of high quality (big file) or low quality (small file).

(As Acrobat already compresses the images, it's not surprising that WinZip doesn't succeed in compressing them any further.)

hth, a.


12:29 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Have a 5MB download option for Broadband, and then split the book up into smaller sections or chapters for dial-up users.


1:00 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Instead of telling them to click on the link, ask them to "right click" and select "SAVE AS". This gives a much more logical "feel" for them of transferring the file to their computer and when they have done this, opening the file is much quicker.

The problem with new versions of acrobat reader and tyeh IE plug in is that in IE the user has to wait for reader to load, THEN reader has to read almost all the file before the page comes up on the screen. This is crazy. It was so much faster in earlier versions, where page one appeared firsrt and THEN the other pages started loading in the back ground.

Also - have a choice of download servers.



1:15 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


instead of asking "... them to "right click" and select "SAVE AS" ..." you could use those force-download tools that prevent documents to be opened directly but show the "Save as" dialogue. With the download window open and the progress bar showing the users are imformed about the status of the download.



1:20 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Oooh... That's a good idea... why didn't I think of that years ago!? :)

Thanks NN!


2:59 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Hi everyone - thanks for all your advice!

It looks like I will need to update my Acrobat to get the built in compression (I've got Acrobat 5).

I'm starting to realise that the issue is with the pdf opening up in the browser, rather than users being able to just download it. I guess if I zipped it so it was "worksheets.zip" rather than "worksheets.pdf" that problem would be solved and more downloads would be successful because it would simply start downloading... Is that the case? The problem with that, though, is the inevitable batch of "I can't open the ZIP file..." emails coming in, which isn't ideal!

Or ask users to "right-click, save", but most people when they see a link, click it.

The files are already chunks of a larger file, so I don't want to split them much further, otherwise users will be downloading the book page by page - I guess that is an option too, but time-consuming for the users.

Many thanks to all again for the inspiration!


4:01 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I'd also make sure the link was labeled as a PDF. If I click a link only to realize too late it's a PDF, I"ll stop the download and do a right click, save as.


5:11 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Fast servers are really really important here. Not just fast but with good connectivity worldwide. I'm in Malaysia and many US based servers are at a crawl - I'd not download your 5 Mb eBook in most cases - but if you had a Japanese mirror I'd download it immediately!


8:16 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

- In Acrobat Reader preferences (writing on OS X here), choose 'internet' from the sidebar. there is a box labeled "display pdf in browser using...". Click on it to uncheck it, to prevent pdf's loading in browser.
- I was thinking, this could be considered a problem in user education. Now, since your educational, maybe it's a great time to acquaint your new users to even more than these pdf related instructions suggested by all.
- For instance, I found it frustrating, using an iBook & the trackpad that came w/it., to read the instructions for downloading a file always telling me to 'right click'. In fact, it was a few months before i found the tip that the keyboard equivalent is 'ctrl click' to bring up control menu to access download choices etc.. Not in any of my excellent manuals ( which are all unusually light on keyboard shortcut info), but described on a site dedicated to the old tv show 'Wheel of Fortune', so visitors could download pictures of Vanna White et. al. This helpful webmaster probably saved me from a stroke or worse. & also got me using the 'control menu' for the 1st time.
- Also, if you educate your users to deselect Acrobat Readers default browser display as the solution, you should tell them how then to view the pdf in acrobat reader later, Otherwise it will open when clicked, w/the native pdf reader of the OS. In OS X that is 'Preview'. A barebones pdf reader. I never paid any attention to Acrobar Reader till the new versions came out. They are quite spectacular when it comes to actually reading a pdf. Scrolling sidebar page selection. Or full-screen w/ keyboard commands. Save a copy to disk button (if it is opened in browser, which, on broadband cable, i actually prefer).
- When i 1st got on web, i wasted alot of time not having fun because so many things need to be learned. As a new user i was cautious about going into 'preferences', which i understood nothing about, & making changes. So i was hobbled. I have a friend on dialup who has heard of the 'control menu' but doesn't really want to mess w/ it, when i give him tips. On the general website, i found a dearth of all this basic information, which everyone quickly learns to take for granted. Most people in the world still don't have computers, & most of the ones that do, still don't really know how to use them. Any website that caters to these users will earn alot of love.

Oliver Henniges

8:17 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I have begun to add my suppliers catalogues for download to my website. One covered I think more than 200 MB in the original version (200 pages with a lot of images), and in a first step I used GS-view to shrink it down to about 70MByte.

Then I designed an intro-page in html, where I put that hint to right-click-and-save the file and also a table with estimated download-time for various connection speeds.

Finally I used pdftohtml to provide an alternative html-version with minor quality for those who are interested in a first quick look-at, and placed a linkt to that html-index-page on the intro-page. If I remember correctly, pdftohtml did not work with the original version, because of the cmyk-format of the images or so, but it worked after shrinking and saving it with gs-view.

Let me add that googlebot initially had problems to swallow that pdf, but I recceived no error-message in my sitemaps account for months now. 70MB of unique content!

Our main problem now: We receive a lot of orders via fax from people who only tell us the product-ids from that catalogue, though we actually don't store those products;)

So, it seems an amazing number of people is using that download. The german telecom is currently working on a 50Mbit-highspeed infrastructure. I can see the days where my 10/100MBit Ethernet-Hub ist THE bottelneck.


11:09 pm on Sep 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for the suggestions guys. I tried a couple of pdf to html convertors (Very PDFtoHTML and another one) and they were impressive, although they didn't recognise every character, e.g. (c) symbol was unrecognised.

It makes me think the best way would be to save the original Word pages that I used to create the PDF as html pages and create an html menu so that people can easily navigate it like a website, rather than having to download anything - and print the pages they want.

But it's frustrating when you think how easy it is to use PDF files and how good they make the pages look, with their correct formatting - how functional Acrobat Reader is, and so on... Yet there are still so many aborted downloads. Very frustrating! But I guess we always have to consider our users' needs rather than think "Well I would be fine with it, so why can't they get the hang of it...!"

Back to the drawing board I think!


1:58 am on Sep 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Just a couple thoughts - take it for what it's worth.

I use the photoshop function to save for the web quite frequently which save through ImageReady or something. This could cut down on image sizes a lot. This was already suggested in a round about way.

Also, on all our servers we use mod-gzip which cuts down on bandwidth and I think it cuts down on load times for large pages.
The server zips the file - transfers to browser - then browser decompresses....only problem - I don't have a clue if this can work with PDF file types.

Good luck.

[edited by: Bilbo123 at 2:00 am (utc) on Sep. 22, 2006]


2:42 am on Sep 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Even worse is the bloatedness of Adobe, which can bring the newest, cleanest OS to its knees. There is an alternative PDF reader out there you could recommend users to use. (Am I allowed to name it?)

Oliver Henniges

7:52 am on Sep 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

> the best way would be to save the original Word pages that I used to create the PDF as html pages

Yes. Generally you assume one single page to cover 4k mere text. That means your documents would conist of more than a thousand pages each if they were 5 MB, which I doubt. This clearly shows the nonsense to use the pdf-format for your own documents on the web. Besides, zipping pdf-files normally has almost zero effect.

You may use some css-formatting for page/text width and form-feeds if you try to design a printer friendly version of your html-documents. I used that technique for my invoices and it works perfectly fine. Your only problem would then be to tell your visitors they'd beter switch off automated page-numbering in internet-explorer. Took me five years to find out this is possible;)


10:35 am on Sep 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

In Acrobat Reader preferences (writing on OS X here), choose 'internet' from the sidebar. there is a box labeled "display pdf in browser using...". Click on it to uncheck it, to prevent pdf's loading in browser.

Wouldn't that change the setting for your own machine, rather than the end-user's machine?

The better solution here, seems to me, is to force the file to download with a 'save this file' dialog (using a mime-type setting? I can't remember).

best, a.


12:17 pm on Sep 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Oliver Henniges:
zipping pdf-files normally has almost zero effect

My recent experience is quite the reverse.

Providing PDFs obtained from multiple sources, I noticed during rsync (home to server) that some of the PDFs had astonishing compression. At that point I tried WinZip on a test bunch of PDFs and noticed that some shrunk by more than 90% (more than 10-fold reduction). My policy now is to zip every PDF. Admittedly, many have less than 5% reduction when zipped, but that is still a reduction in both bandwidth and download speed - remember, gzip compression cannot be used on PDFs since it shafts most Windows display-in-browser.

A note on forcing download-menus:

Both 'Content-Type' and 'Content-Disposition' must be set within the headers, in that order.

for MSIE & Opera: "Content-Type: octetstream"
for all others: "Content-Type: octet-stream"
else: "Content-Type: application/force-download"

then: "Content-Disposition: attachment; filename=filename"

(no quotes throughout, including the filename; filename must not contain `Web', `Browser' or `WebBrowser'!)

(conversely, if you want it to be inline, use the correct mime-type for 'Content-Type', and change 'attachment' to 'inline')



12:47 pm on Sep 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

the original Word pages that I used to create the PDF

Okay, we have part of the equation here at least. Now we know the original is in Word - what software exactly are you using to create the PDFs? Acrobat Distiller? PDF Writer? Another app?

I ask because a friend sent me a large Word document a while back and when I asked why he did not send as a PDF he said it was because the third-party PDF utility he was using did not produce any appreciable decrease in file size.

I took the Word doc and PDF-ed it myself (with Acrobat Distiller 4) and cut the file size significantly (originally around 2Mb Word doc, cut down to about 400kb as a PDF).

The same document, had it been created in Adobe InDesign probably would have been around 200Kb when exported to PDF. My point is that some apps create more efficient PDFs than others.


5:07 pm on Sep 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Hello andyne - What i meant is that these are the simple instructions for setting Acrobat Reader to not open the pdf in the browser window. It will simply download to the users disk. These instructions should be given to the visitor at matt52's site, to be performed on their computers. It should be basically the same in windows & mac, as it's adobe's interface. Then, w/ one of the file compression schemes everyone is offering, the problem of how a new user on dialup can download a pdf easily will be solved.


6:14 am on Sep 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I thought I would chime in with a small suggestion, a little away from the current line of advice. That is to strip off the first page, and make that available for download by itself. If your able to get the 56kers hooked after reading the first page, they may put in the extra effort and go for the whole thing.


2:04 pm on Sep 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Hi, thanks again everyone for your help and discussion. After considering all the advice on this forum I have decided to break the book down into separate pages and offer each page as an individual download, rather than the whole book in one download. There are 101 pages and each page is a separate printable worksheet so the book lends itself to this. I will give users the option to download each page in 4 different file types:

- HTML (i.e click onto a web page) (averaging about 20 KB)
- Word .doc (about 30 KB)
- .pdf (about 90 KB)
- .txt document (about 1 KB)

This way everyone should be able to get hold of the material that they want!

This 31 message thread spans 2 pages: 31

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