(pronounced Issue) is a site that aims to allow individuals and companies to publish documents on the web. Users can upload PDF, Microsoft Office files (PPT, Doc) or various open document formats. Issuu allows readers to view read-only versions of such documents using only a web browser with Flash. Issuu is typically used for brochures and other commercial publications, but is also suited for newsletters, magazines and creative stuff.

Usage and ease of use

A user can flip through the pages in a web browser while seeing one or two pages at a time in a “paper-like” format. When you click to get the next page, the page is fetched from Issuu’s server. Although later pages are prefetched when possible, this can take a few seconds because the page is typically fetched as a bitmap rather than as text. A progress bar indicates how long this will take. On a slow connection, the speed can be a bit irritating if you want to browse quickly. Although, on the one hand, browsing is clearly slower than on a local PDF file, the time to load a page is roughly comparable to the time it would take to load a comparable HTML page containing multiple images.

Pages are displayed in an elegant format with superimposed shadows to suggest curvature. What you see resembles a stack of double-sided pages stapled together at the spine (magazine format). The look and feel of the web site has a bit of Nintendo Wii design to it: clean, easy to use and a bit innovative styling.  The document doesn’t give you visual clues about how long it is: a 3-page memo, and 30-page magazine and a 300-page book start out looking pretty much the same.

Example documents

For some reason, typical Issuu documents themselves tend to look professional (e.g. advertisements, photo books, art books) rather than just being simple text or designed by beginners. Recent (selected?) publications in early September 2009 show a wide range of documents:

  • Two issues of Design Magazine – a free 200+ page magazine on “every possible design discipline”. The publisher is based in South Africa. The magazine contains advertisements.
  • A free magazine about Ghost Tours in the US East Coast. Its publisher is Travel Virginia! magazine which embeds Issuu’s document viewer on their website. The documents look like those distributed for free by travel agencies.
  • The Good American Post, a free local newsletter for the Colorado area: “Your Local Source for Good News”.
  • A set of scanned fake voting ballots documenting election fraud in the Philippines.
  • A Bulgarian “Business and Lifestyle” magazine containing lots of advertisements.
  • The 2010 US-version of the IKEA Catalogue, uploaded by a Dianna Dilworth, who describes herself as a digital reporter. IKEA itself puts the catalogue online itself using software from ecSoftware (the ecBook software looks similar to Issuu and has some extra features like the ability to add links to pages).
  • A real estate Buyer’s Guide for the Main/New Hampshire area. Actually there were two slightly different copies (due to an update?).
  • Three management and training books (one in Vietnamese, one from Elsevier, one published by the Canadian government). The uploader’s relationship to these (explicitly copyrighted) works was not specified.
  • The first 21 pages of a 128-page “graphic novel” (comic book) related to Count Dracula that is about to be published commercially.
  • A booklet with photos of an Australian charity project in Nairobi, Kenya.


With free version of Issuu, documents can be up to 500 pages long and up to 100 MBytes in size. The 500 page limit is fine, because documents that long are impractical anyway. The 100 MByte limit caused me to have to split a 200 page book (to be printed via into multiple chapters. This is because the BookSmart software I was using renders pages to PDF by converting photos and text to bitmaps (this requires a CutePDF printer driver). At 300 dot/inch, this can easily several MBytes per page. At lower resolutions (e.g. 150 dot/inch) the output files are smaller, but font readability starts to suffer.

Business model

Although both the document owner and the document reader can use Issuu’s service’s for free, Issuu hopes to make money providing “Pro” accounts which allow bigger documents and via some form of context-aware advertisement: like Google, Issuu knows what the user has looked at and what searches the user did. Presumably Issuu is still in he venture capital phase: they seem to concentrate on getting a big readership and leave the advertising income for later.

My own documents

I am currently using Issuu to distribute a draft of our Andalusia book (to be printed at so that it can be reviewed by the coauthors. See, for example, the introduction chapter. The other chapters (e.g. on the Roman excavations in Italica) have less text and more photos.

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2 Responses to

  1. Maddy says:

    Sounds good, but could I use it for permitted access only, or is it available to everyone? I would like to send designs to clients without the whole world seeing

  2. pvdhamer says:

    Nowadays Blurb allows you to preview books (publically or privately).
    I thus have no need for Issuu myself anymore.

    For PDF files you can take the file delivery route:

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