Ebook formats

 
 
Part 8: the pros and cons of ebook formats such as EPUB, MOBI and PDF.
 
If you ever want to make your head explode, check out Wikipedia’s list of ebook formats. Like most format wars, though, there are winners and losers and the good news for sanity is that most formats on that list are dead in the water in terms of user base, if not functionality.

Hieroglyphs
Old school E(gyptian)books. Also, what is up with that eighth hieroglyph from the top?     (source)

There are now three major formats and (coincidentally) three major players on the market. It is important to remember that these figures are a snapshot in time, and the market is rapidly changing as more and more people buy ereaders.

Kindle-compatible ebooks (AZW, MOBI, KF8)

The AZW is Amazon’s proprietary format, allowing content control via digital rights management, although authors and publishers are increasingly abandoning DRM because it arbitrarily discourages legitimate consumers while not being particularly effective at reducing piracy. A generated MOBI file (which supports Kindle 1 and 2) contains a KF8 file (supported by later Kindles), which is then converted to AZW when you upload to Amazon. Simple, eh?

Pros

1. market share and reach
2. flowable text allowing smooth reading on a variety of devices

Cons

1. lack of formatting options available to ebook designers
2. closed format may stifle innovation
3. Kindle devices with smaller screens make displaying graphs, figures and tables tricky

EPUB and EPUB3

EPUB is an open source format supported by most major players, bar Amazon. EPUB3 is the newest version of the EPUB, allowing a wide variety of HTML compliant formatting options. The first EPUB3 compatible readers have just been released.

Pros

1. wider variety of formatting options available to ebook designers
2. open source format encourages innovation
3. flowable text allowing smooth reading on a variety of devices
4. market reach

Cons

1. market share
2. devices with smaller screens make displaying graphs, figures and tables tricky

PDF

Adobe’s PDF has been around for a long time, and most readers are familiar with the format. It tends to be used more for manuals and textbooks and displayed on devices with larger screens (touchpads and PCs), where its fixed rendering of complex graphical elements becomes advantageous. On smaller devices, however, PDFs formatted to be larger than A5 (and many are saved as A4) essentially become unreadable.

Pros

1. widespread use
2. user familiarity

Cons

1. fixed, non-flowable text restricts use on smaller devices*
2. not particularly suited to the novel format
 
* Text can be made to reflow under specific circumstances and Adobe is working on reflow solutions for PDFs.

Major players

Amazon

Format: AZW, MOBI
Device: Kindle
Current market share of US ebook sales: 60%
 

Barnes & Noble

Format: EPUB
Device: Nook
Current market share of US ebook sales: 25%
 

Apple

Format: EPUB
Device: iPad, iPhone
Current market share of US ebook sales: 10%
Source

Proceed to Part 9: ‘Understanding HTML’, or return to the article index.
Return to Re: writing
While I’ve endeavoured to provide you with accurate information, what is considered ‘accurate’ will change over time. If I’m wrong, or you’d like to ask a question or share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your take on things.

Rhys About Rhys

Teacher, writer, editor, cook: a bit like that nursery rhyme, really.
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