Jun 11 2006
The question I often see around message boards is which format should I buy. Most publishers/ebook stores will offer at least 2, if not 6 or 7 different formats. For a novice ereader or even one who has been reading ebooks for a few years, this is problematic.
There are lots of different formats. You will have to download the reader (appropriate software program) to your pc and/or handheld device in order to “read” your books. Think Itunes as the “reader” of music and the “Ipod” as the device to carry with you to “read” the music. Similarly, Adobe Reader, MS Reader, MobiPocket Reader, and Ereader are the “Itunes” in the ebook scenario. The IPOD is a handheld reading device.
You need to be careful to buy the correct format as most stores will not let you exchange one downloaded book for another if you screw up. Most reader software will not read a book in another format. You always make backup files of their ebooks in case of the dreaded Blue Screen of Death or in case your computer/handheld device becomes obsolete in a year. Oh and with some formats, if your reader dies, you lose out on the ability to ever read those books again. Say, like me, you bought tons of ebooks from Barnes and Noble. You download them. BN decides it isn’t going to maintain the ebooks on their server anymore. If you haven’t backed up those books, you are SOL.
I was trying to think of a good female analogy. What I came up with was this. When you buy a soda at a fast food court in the mall, you get a certain cup. That cup can only be refilled with soda/coffee from an establishment that will fill your cup. The ebook contents or the book itself is the coffee/soda. The cup is the format that you can use to sip the coffee or read the book. The establishment where you buy the cup is the vendor. Some vendors will offer different cups allowing you a refill of any number of choices of soda whereas some vendors only offer one cup. Is that a meaningful analogy?
Each format has its own benefits and drawbacks. Which format each reader prefers depends upon
- need of customization
- ebook reading device.
The last factor can determine the format for you but if you haven’t invested in a reader or have a handheld device, you still have choices. This article gives a rundown of the ebook formats that PUBLISHERS/VENDORS offer. This will not address the variety of formats that you, as a reader, can create from an html/doc/rtf/txt file (if you don’t know what this means, don’t worry. I’ll address in another week).
There are secured or encrypted formats and unsecured/unencrypted formats. The secured or encrypted formats need a special key to allow a user to open and view a book. Each format,unfortunately, has its own special key. (I.e., if the cup you bought had a lid and only a special key distributed to each person could open the lid and allow you to drink from it.
- Palm/Ereader (
PDB). The PDB or Ereader format was initially developed for Palm handheld devices. Peanut Press went live in October of 1998. It offered books from Tor/St. Martin’s Press and Dorchester Publishing. (Go Dorchester!). Peanut Press’ format was a “pdb” format readable on palm devices.
Palm purchased Peanut Press and became Palm Digital Media. There was a split in Palm and PDM became part of PalmGear and Peanut Press morphed into Ereader.com in 2004. With its name change,came a software change.
See Lee’s Comment which doesn’t make a ton of sense to me but points out the errors in this section.
- Software: The “pdb” files are tied to a specific reading software called EReader. Other software out there that views “pdb” files cannot view locked ereader.com files.
- DRM*: Runs with the book. Which means you can copy the book file from desktop to laptop to handheld device to homecomputer and unlock it at each place without downloading and activating. The key is your credit card number and name on the credit card so you have to know which CC you used to purchase thebook.
- Platfoms: Linux, Mac, MS Smartphones, Palm, Pocket PC, Symbian Smartphones and Windows devices.
- Bookmarks: Can add bookmarks and notes. Limited resizing of fonts: Small, large, bold, and large bold.
- Support: Email support.
- Storage: Can store books on a memory card.
- Notes: You can change the background and text color but only if you purchase the “pro” version of the ereader.
- Pros: Easy DRM. Largest ebookstore available. Gets books earliest.
- Cons: Have to purchase the eReader PRO to view at different colors. Limited font resizeability. High prices. Must use ereader.com software.
- Adobe (PDF). In 2000, Adobe purchased Glassbooks, an ebook provider and partnered with Barnes and Noble to provide books in electronic format. Barnes and Noble is out of the ebook biz but many publishers still offer ebooks in Adobe format.
- Software: The “pdf” files are tied to a specific reading software called Reader. Other software out there that views “pddf” files cannot view locked pdf files.
- DRM*: DRM is complicated. First, you have to have a microsoft Passport username and password. So, you have to go over and sign up for a Passport account. (does anyone but me find the irony in this hilarious given the fights between Adobe and MS over the years?). Then you go back to the Adobe website. Sign in with your username and password. Click on activation. When the popup window comes up, you must select “open” instead of “save”. Select save and you may never be able to activate your computer.
- Platfoms: Linux, Mac, Palm, Pocket PC, Symbian Smartphones and Windows devices depending on the reader software you download.
- Bookmarks: Can add bookmarks and notes depending on the permissions granted by the publisher. Can resize fonts
- Support: Message board where you hope like hell someone will respond but most likely not. Best advice: Don’t have problems and you’ll be fine.
- Storage: Sometimes the Adobe reader won’t recognize books on a memory card and to view them, you must move the files to the main memory.
- Notes: The PDF file that is read on your harddrive will look very, very, very different on your handheld. If the publisher of the book does not allow for the text to reflow, you will have to scroll from left to right to read each sentence. (I had this problem with the Lynne Connolly Rose and Richard series)
- Pros: None. (I’m sure there are some but I really hate Adobe so I am not going to hurt myself trying to think of a pro).
- Cons: Terrible DRM leaving your ebooks unreadable in some cases. Some books are not equipped to “reflow” rendering them unreadable in some cases.
- Mobipocket (PRC). It has partnered with Amazon and with cell phone manufacturers.
- Software: The “prc” files are tied to a specific reading software called Mobipocket. Other software out there that views “pdf” files cannot view locked pdf files.
- DRM*: DRM is linked to the device. You can activate up to 4 devices.. Each device is given a PID when the software is installed. You then register the device online with the appropriate PID. If you change devices, you can delete one and add another. You can also request the activation be reset.
- Platfoms: Windows, Palm, Windows Mobile (Pocket PC and Smartphone), Symbian OS, Blackberry. Older versions supported Franklin Ebookman.. This cannot be used on Mac or Linux platforms.
- Bookmarks: Can bookmark, highlight and add notes.
- Customize : Can change margins, line spacing, full text justification with hyphenation. Change the font size and the background color. Has a fullscreen mode and an autoscroll feature (this “scrolls” through the book so you don’t even have to turn the page.
- Support: Message board where Mobipocket admins answer questions.
- Storage: Can store on a memory card.
- Notes: Great library that allows users to assign ratings to the book that they read.
- Pros: Very customizable. Library feature allows ratings of books.
- Cons: DRM is device specific. The software program is bloated. Mac users would not be able to read their books on their computers.
- Miscrosoft Reader (Lit). MS Reader was initially released in 2000. It is Microsoft’s answer to Adobe PDF reader.
- Software: The “lit” files are tied to a specific reading software called MS Reader. No other software programs can read a “lit” file.
- DRM: Device specific. You can activate up to 6 devices. Can request an extra activation in case of a hard drive reformat or new computer purchase.
- Platfoms: Windows, Windows CE, and Pocket PC. Not for Mac or Palm readers.
- Bookmarks: Yes, different colored bookmarks.
- Customization: Has white background. There is a limited amount of font resizing preset by the software. There is a full screen mode.
- Support: Email and Phone ( (866) 834-8317 ) support.
- Notes: You cannot download MS Lit books in Firefox because MS does not recognize your computer as being “activated.”
- Pros: Clear type technology makes the print look more like a book. Has an okay library feature. There is a software program available that can turn the LIT files into html files.
- Cons: Restrictive DRM. Lacks customization. Has huge white spaces/margins that cannot be changed.
- Rocketbook (RB), Franklin Ebookman (RUB), Hiebook (KML) and Fictionwise eBookWise (IMP) all are device specific formats. Limited vendors offer these formats. No NY published ebook can be obtained in these formats currently. The DRM runs with the book and is quite restrictive because if you do not own the right device or if the device dies, you cannot read the book.
- Software/Platforms There is a RocketLibrarian for Windows and Macs but it is only so that you can transport books from the computer to the Rocket ebook. Unsecured “rb” books can be read on a Windows computer using eRocket. With another piece of software called a migration tool, you can read your RB books on the Fictionwise eBookwise device.
- Support: Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and phone (1-602-744-6046) for the software. You are encouraged to contact the vendor who sold you the book if you have a problem with the book. There is also a yahoo group devoted to RB users.
- Franklin Ebookman. (FUB).
- Software/Platforms: The FUB format can only be read on the device.
- Support: There are Frequently Asked Questions that serve as a support area.
- Hiebook (KML)
- Software/Platforms: KML books can be read on the Hiebook reader. There is also a Windows reader. No other platforms are supported..
- Support: At this point, I don’t think that there is any support. The US distributor of this Korean product seems to be unavailable. See the comments section here for more information.
- Fictionwise’s eBookWise, OEBFF Full VGA, OEBFF Half VGA (IMP). In late 2004, Fictionwise opened a companion store called eBookWise. It offered rebranded Rocketbooks. It also started offering many (but not all) its books in a compatible format called “IMP” There are two different formats offered. A Full VGA and a Half VGA. The Full VGA is a larger sized file and is for color and grayscale screens. The Half VGA is smaller sized file and it is black and white (although I believe it can be read on a color or grayscale screen).
- HTML. Many of the ebook publishing houses offer this format. The html format is the most versatile as it can be converted into dozens of other formats.
- Software: It is not tied to any specific software. It can be read by MS Word, Internet Explorer, and any other browser. It can be converted into many formats.
- DRM: No DRM
- Platfoms: Every platform natively except Palm devices The html file must be converted to be read on a Palm.
- Bookmarks: Depends on the reader software program you are using.
- Support: No support.
- Notes: Virtually unlimited configurability.
- Pros: No DRM. Can make it look exactly how you want. Vision impaired readers can use the “text to speech” feature on their readers. It can move to as many machines as you like.
- Cons: Not natively compatible with Palm devices.
- DRM Stands for Digital Rights Management. It is the security that publishers attach to each ebook file you download so that you can’t give it to someone or sell it.
What do Jayne and I like? Well, having suffered through hard drive failures, computer upgrades, changes from a palm to a pocketpc, we have learned expensive lessons.
- Don’t buy books that are not cross platform compatible otherwise you will have to rebuy them (ie. when I bought a palm pdb book and its software could not be used on a pocketpc).
- Don’t buy books, if at all possible, in Adobe PDF. I have about 20 books that I currently cannot read because I can’t get the activation to work and I can’t redownload the damn things because I bought them at Barnes and Noble.
- Don’t buy encrypted books if you can help it. This way, you are not bound to a device or a platform or a specific software program.
- Do buy HTML, or if you can’t Ereader or Mobipocket. I like Mobipocket the best out of the above platforms because the software allows so much user configuration and because you can rate your books. We love rating our books!!!
Or google for a program called Convert Lit GUI. It can help ease the pain of buying ebooks. Trust us.Thanks for the heads up at Teleblog. This is actually illegal (but maybe the law is unconstitutional.) Anyway, we don’t advocate breaking any laws.