You know, many of my very intelligent friends and family don’t really know what an eBook is. So my very simple post today is just that, a simple description of the basics of eBooks. The folks who hang out at teleread.org or mobileread.com have some amazing insight and opinions on eBooks, but alas, they are the vast minority. So this post is for everyone who has no idea what an eBook is or what a digital publisher (like us) does. Oh, and please accept my apologies for what you believe might be misinformation and feel free to leave a comment below!
File Types: An eBook is the digital file version of a book, much like an mp3 is a digital file version of a song on a cd or vinyl album. Like music, there are many types of files which can hold eBooks the most widely known is the pdf. This is a static version of the book, a “picture” of the way the text was laid out in it’s chapters, typesetting, spacing etc. Other and increasingly popular file types are reflowable, or allow the user to determine the font, sizing, spacing and paper/background on which the book will be read. More and more we are seeing an adoption of the epub format as the preferred file format for eBooks.
Protection: To protect against piracy, publishers or stores can impose Digital Rights Management (DRM). This is a form of encoding or locking the file so that it cannot be copied to other machines or to other readers. For most large publishers and bookstores, DRM is necessary to protect themselves and their authors. For those who truly love reading, it is a bane since it limits what the reader can do with a book once it has been purchased and can even limit being able to transfer the file to other machines. We are against DRM since imposing it doesn’t necessarily protect the book from being copied (e.g. I’ve heard recent rumors that a pirated version of Dan Brown’s most recent book appeared online not 14 minutes after it was released with DRM in large online bookstores.)
Methods of Reading: Readers can read eBooks on a variety of machines. One’s computer is the most obvious choice. A smartphone, like a Blackberry or iPhone, is another. But increasingly, electronics manufacturers are releasing dedicated eBook reading devices which can have a variety of functions, like wireless network access, single or dual screens, colour display, large or small displays. The Amazon Kindle is a very popular device and was devised to instantly gain access to Amazon’s Kindle store where New York Times bestsellers reside alongside self published titles. That said, there is a bevy of non-store specific readers that aptly and well serve their owners. For everything you’d want to know about readers, here is a great matrix over at MobileRead.
Where to buy eBooks: Every major bookstore now carries electronic books and this is apparently the only segment of the book publishing industry that is in current growth. Whether you choose to shop from the majors like Barnes & Noble or Amazon or the great independent bookstores like Books on Board or Powells, they all offer major titles and books by indie authors. In addition, there are a multitude of self-pub sites out there, like Smashwords or Lulu. The benefit of buying from smaller stores is that you may have a choice of formats and whether or not they impose DRM.
For those who love eBooks, like moi, it’s easy to tout their benefits – portable, customizable, instantly attainable, no paper to throw away and my entire library is always with me, (I read on my iPhone). For those who haven’t taken the leap – by far the biggest complaint I hear is that one will lose that tangible feeling of holding the book, of seeing the words in their typeset as the publisher intended, of the smell and feel of the paper. It’s hard to argue with that. I don’t see paper books going anywhere; heck, there are people who still swear by their vinyl or photographic film. But for me, the experience of reading comes not from the paper and ink, but from the words that flow from the author’s mind, creating a time and space in which I don’t reside, carrying me away from myself and my surroundings to the one they created. And once I was there, in that surreal place, even years later, I remember those words, that feeling the author invoked. And I simply can’t remember the paper.