Understanding What an eBook Is!

April 4, 2012 in Articles, Formatting eBooks

If you are a writer of books,  or a publisher of information in a printed format, you need to understand exactly what an eBook is, otherwise you could be missing out on a massive market for your products through the simple conversion of your printed, hardcopy medium into a digital one. This is especially true with the whole world seemingly heading towards the convenience of mobile technology and adopting applications that allow them to carry many different books on hand-held devices ranging from mobile phones to dedicated eReaders.

This is a straightforward definition of an eBook:

“an eBook is a replica of a printed book delivered in a digital format that can be diplayed and read on an eReader”

What is an eBook?

The problem authors come up against when they want to convert their printed books into digital versions is understanding that there is not one single standard digital format that e-readers use. Many people will cry – just use a ‘pdf’, Adobe’s contribution to the digital world. But unfortunately a ‘pdf’ is not the complete solution. Yes there is no doubt that Adobe’s ‘pdf’ format has its place in the digital world and  is good for viewing and printing a book from a PC, laptop or iPad. It’s acronym does after all convert to the meaning ‘portable document file’, which is exactly what it is.

Download it to a Kindle and again yes it will work, but you will lose much of the functionality a Kindle has to offer; for example, the automatic starting of a page from a main heading or the simple resizing of text. The same applies to many of the other eReading devices now available through the digital marketplace. They require the files that were designed for them in order to provide the optimum level of functionality.

How complex this all becomes, depends to an extent on the requirements of the author. There are in fact three fairly solid formats that exist which can take care of most eReader requirements in terms of functionality.

  1. The ‘PDF’ format already discussed is best for your home PC or laptop and is also good for printing if the security settings allow it.
  2. The ‘EPUB’ format is your best choice for Nook, Sony Reader, KOBO and most reading apps, including Stanza, Aldiko and Adobe Digital Editions.
  3. The ‘MOBI’ format is best for Kindle and Kindle apps, remembering that Amazon have their own proprietary file format, the ‘AZW’, which is almost entirely based on ‘MOBI’ and only differs slightly with respect to how it handles the digital rights management (DRM) aspect of the file formatting. So the Kindle will read and display properly formatted ‘MOBI’ files without any problem.

There is another usurper creeping into the fray and that is the KF8 or Kindle Format 8 which is specifically for use on a Kindle Fire eReader. Obviously with Amazon being the major player in the eBook marketplace it would be silly to dismiss this late entrant. You can find out all you need to know about the Kindle Fire using this link. But basically this new format introduces a massively extended range of functionality that encompasses, amongst other things, HTML5 and CSS3 support.

Of course there are other formats that exist for eBook readers but the ones detailed above are the current main players. Formatting existing word documents so that they can be converted into the three main formats range from a fairly easy exercise to definitely quite tricky. PDF conversion is certainly the easiest and ePubs that will pass the required ePub check is typically the most difficult.

Useful Free Resources

To read ‘PDF’ files, as books, on desktops and laptops, you will need Adobe Reader.

To read ePub books on desktops and laptops we recommend the free Adobe Digital Editions software app, which incidentally will also support ‘PDF’ files if you want a single solution.

To read any Kindle books on your desktop or laptop you can download the Kindle Previewer software from Amazon.

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