eBooks - The Complete Introduction and Format Overview

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eBooks has become a very popular item on eBay as of recently with a simple seach resulting in thousands of hits.  This guide was written with the goal of explaining exactly what an eBook is for those fellow eBayers who may be leary about purchasing an item they do not fully understand.  I do hope you find it helpful and informative and please feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions for improvement.


An ebook is an electronic (or digital) version of a book. The term is used ambiguously to refer to either an individual work in a digital format, or a hardware device used to read books in digital format. Some users deprecate the second meaning in favour of the more precise "ebook device."

Though e-texts are available as digitally encoded books and the term is often used synonymously with the term ebook, that usage is deprecated. The term e-text is used for the more limited case of data in ASCII text format, while the more general e-book can be in a specialized (and, at times, proprietary) file format. An exception to this rule is the academic e-text, which commonly includes components such as facsimile images, apparatus criticus, and scholarly commentary on the work from one or more editors specially qualified to edit the author or work in question.

An ebook is commonly bundled by a publisher for distribution (as an ebook, an ezine, or an internet newspaper), whereas e-text is distributed in ASCII (or plain text), or in the case of academic works, in the form of discrete media such as compact discs. Metadata relating to the text are sometimes included with etext (though it appears more frequently with ebooks). Metadata commonly include details about author, title, publisher, and copyright date; less common are details regarding language, genre, relevant copyright conventions, etc.

The ebook community has many options when it comes to choosing a format for production. While the average end user might arguably simply want to read books, every format has its exponents and champions, and debates over "which format is best" can become intense. For the average end user to read a book, every format has its advantages and disadvantages. Formats available include, but are by no means limited to:

Rich Text Format
Published as an .rtf

A standard formalized by Microsoft Corporation for specifying formatting of documents. RTF files are actually ASCII files with special commands to indicate formatting information, such as fonts and margins.

Hyper Text Markup Language
Commonly known as HTML

HTML is the markup language used for most web pages. eBooks using HTML can be read using a standard browser (e.g., Mozilla, Firefox, or Microsoft Internet Explorer), with no need for special equipment.

Portable Document Format
Published as a .pdf

A file format created by Adobe Systems, initially to provide a standard form for storing and editing printed publishable documents. Because documents in .pdf format can easily be seen and printed by users on a variety of computer and platform types, they are very common on the World Wide Web.

PDF files are created mainly using Adobe Acrobat, but Acrobat Capture and other Adobe products also support their creation, as do third-party products such as PDFCreator, OpenOffice.org, and FOP. Acrobat Reader (now simply called Adobe Reader) is Adobe's product used to view PDF files. PDF files typically contain product manuals, brochures, magazine articles, or flyers as they can embed fonts, images, and other documents. A PDF file contains one or more page images, each of which you can zoom in on or out from. The PDF format can include interactive elements such as buttons for forms entry and for triggering sound and Quicktime or AVI movies. Acrobat PDF files are optimized for the Web by rendering text before graphic images and hypertext links. Adobe's PDF-like eBook format is incorporated into their reader.

Published as an .exe

ExeBook is a compiler that produces an ebook file that, when executed, produces a simulated book onscreen, complete with page texture. The etext is encrypted as graphic images so that automatic text copying is very difficult. The fear of exe files picking up viruses, however, is hampering its acceptance.

Comparison with printed books

-Text can be searched, except when represented in the form of images.
-Take up little space.
-Hundreds (or thousands) may be carried together on one device.
-Approximately 500 average ebooks can be stored on one CD (equivalent to several shelves' worth of print books)
-Because they take up little space, eBooks can be offered indefinitely, with no 'out of print' date, allowing authors to continue to earn royalties indefinitely (copyright law permiting), and allowing readers to find older works by favorite authors.
-Ebooks may be read in low light or even total darkness, with a back-lit device.
-Type size and type face may be adjusted. However, enlarging e.g. a PDF document magnifies the text but preserves the original layout and spacing; a practical limit on zooming follows from the requirement to keep a text column within the width of the screen (otherwise horizontal scrolling would be needed during and after reading each line, which would be very cumbersome). However, tagged PDFs can be reflowed in Acrobat 6 and 7, eliminating the horizontal-scrolling problem in zoomed PDFs. For more on zooming in, see Electronic maps.
-Can be used with text-to-speech software.
-Readily reformatted for independent platforms.
-Instantly copied
-When a backup is kept in a remote place, cannot be lost by fire, etc.
-Once distributed, elimination is hard to impossible.
-Distributed at low cost.
-Distributed instantly, allowing readers to begin reading at once, without the need to visit a bookstore
-Simultaneously share book (if networked).
-Errors may be easily corrected with downloadable lists of errata or simply with corrected text. (This can also be an advantage for printed books, in different circumstances.)
-At the moment, ebooks are commonly published by independent publishing houses, which can mean greater editorial and authorial freedom and more room for experimentation.
-An inexpensive format for works that require color.
-An excellent choice of format for works that benefit from search and cross-reference capabilities, such as dictionaries, reference works, certain kinds of textbooks.

From the user's point of view:
-Can be incompatible with new or replacement hardware or software
-Require care in handling and storage of the files, to avoid damage or loss
-Reading can be hard on (or even harmful to) the eyes
-Lacks the quality of a print book as an item

From the publisher/author's point of view:
-Can in some cases be hacked, or disseminated without approval from the author or publisher (some formats are more susceptible to this than others)
-Not normally a good format choice for works that have extensive and/or large illustrations, such as works in art history, photography, large maps, etc.

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