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Take EBooks at Your Leisure: EBook Formats

June 16, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 169

This is the first of a series of articles all about ebooks. Other in the series include:

* eBook Encryption (DRM)

* eBook Reading Devices

* eBooks and eReaders: Desired Features

* eBook Publishing

* eBook Marketing

* eBook Stores: Desired Features

eBook Formats

The most powerful eBook formats are those that are the most flexible, portable and mobile.

For example, the mainstream eBook reader platforms allow one to read eBooks on dedicated eBook readers (Kindle, Nook, and Kobo), on smart phones and other general purpose mobile devices (Apple, Android, Blackberry, etc.), and on desktop/laptop computers (PC, Macintosh). They allow customization of the reading experience to personal preferences and to the characteristics (size, contrast, etc.) of the specific eBook reader. They also synchronize attributes such as bookmarks, notes, and highlights across all user reader devices.

In order to give these platforms the ability to shine, the eBook formats must be universally adaptable.

In this context, the term "format" refers to the rules, conventions, and syntax that govern how documents are stored and displayed.

Document formats are typically associated with software applications capable of creating documents that obey the rules of that format.

Other software applications interpret and display the documents according to the rules of the format. These "reader" software applications are typically incompatible across formats.

For example, a document formatted in Amazon's proprietary MOBI format cannot be read by Apple's iBook reader.

The past several years have witnessed an explosion of hardware and software options for eBooks. We are not going to talk about all of them here because there are about 40 in total... instead, we will concentrate on the most popular.

Popular eBook Formats


To date, the best candidate for a universal eBook standard is the EPUB (Electronic Publication) format. EPUB is a free and open eBook standard designed by the International Digital Publishing Forum that provides support for reflowable/resizable text, embedded images, bookmarks, notes, tables, audio and DRM (Digital Rights Management). Internally, the EPUB format uses XHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language).

Electronic books created in EPUB format can be read on many popular readers under Windows PC and Macintosh:

* Adobe Digital Editions

* Lexcycle Stanza


* FBReader

* Mozilla Firefox add-on EPUBReader

* UBook

In addition, the EPUB format can be read on many mobile devices, including:

* Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod

* BlackBerry

* HTC / Android

* Samsung Tablet

* Barnes & Noble Nook

* Sony Reader

* Kobo eReader

* Bookeen Cybook

* Aluratek Libre

* Iliad

* Nokia

* Hanlin


Unfortunately, the Amazon Kindle does not support the EPUB format. However there is software available (e.g. calibre) which can convert a non-DRM EPUB file into the unprotected Mobipocket format that the Kindle can read. Additionally, Amazon offers a free program called KindleGen which converts EPUB and several other formats.


MOBI (often referred to as AZW format also) is Amazon's proprietary Kindle eBook format.

The MOBI format is based on the Mobipocket standard (Amazon purchased the French eReader company Mobipocket in 2005) with the inclusion of Amazon's digital rights management (DRM) components. The MOBI format supports text reflow, bookmarks, notes, tables, embedded images, and DRM.

The kindle file format has gone through several generations. With the release of the Kindle Fire reader in late 2011, also released Kindle Format 8, their next-generation file format. The .kf8 file format supports HTML5 and CSS3.

Other than the Kindle reader itself, the Kindle format is now available on a variety of platforms, such as through the Kindle app for:

* Apple iPad, iPhone

* BlackBerry

* HTC / Android

* Windows Phone 7

And of course, it's also available on Windows PC and Macintosh.


PDF (Portable Document Format) is a "page oriented" format. Developed in 1992 by Adobe, its original intent was to ensure that an electronic document shared with another person will print for the recipient exactly as the document creator intended, regardless of the computer and printer being used. Its primary purpose, therefore, is to faithfully reproduce the printed page, and it accomplishes this exceptionally well, as it works on virtually all computer platforms.

The PDF format has evolved over its 20-year existence. Modern PDF documents can be protected from unauthorized access, modification, printing, etc. They can include navigation features and links to external content, can contain multimedia components, and can be used to collect information (forms). Adobe released the PDF format to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as an open standard in 2007-2008 (ISO 32000). This allowed other software vendors to enable their applications to create and read documents in PDF format, though Adobe Reader and Acrobat Pro remain the most robust and widely-distributed PDF tools. PDF documents can be viewed within Web browsers and users can create a PDF by "printing" virtually any Web content to a PDF "printer".

Since the format is designed to reproduce page images, the text traditionally could not be re-flowed to fit the screen width or size of the new breed of smart phones and "palm-sized" devices. As a result, PDF files designed for printing on standard paper sizes are less easily viewed on screens with limited size or resolution, such as those found on mobile phones and e-book readers. Adobe has attempted to addressed this drawback by adding a re-flow facility to its Acrobat Reader software, but for it to work the document must be marked for re-flowing at creation, meaning that existing PDF documents won't benefit unless they are tagged and re-saved.

The most noteworthy features of the PDF format are its portability (the "P" in PDF) and device independence. PDF files are supported on Windows, Macintosh, and Unix computers as well as the full range of portable operating systems and e-book readers including:

* Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod

* BlackBerry

* HTC / Android

* Amazon Kindle

* Samsung Tablet

* Barnes & Noble Nook

* Sony Reader

* Kobo eReader

* Bookeen Cybook

* Aluratek Libre

* iRex iLiad and DR1000

* Nokia

* Hanlin


* Foxit eSlick

* PocketBook Reader

The PDF format supports bookmarks, notes, tables, embedded images and DRM.


The PDB (eReader) format is a specification to hold information in a database for Palm OS and other operating systems. When used to represent an eBook, the data stored in this database is the text of the book and the commands that control the way it is displayed by its reader.

The program supports features like bookmarks and footnotes, enabling the user to mark any page with a bookmark, and any part of the text with a footnote-like commentary. Footnotes can later be exported as a Memo document. Text reflow, tables, embedded images and DRM are also supported.

In addition to Windows PC and MAC, the following support eReader:

* Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod

* BlackBerry

* HTC / Android

* Samsung

* PalmOS (not webOS)

* Sony Ericsson

* Symbian

* PocketPC (2002 or Earlier)

* Windows Mobile Smartphone and PocketPC 2003 or Later

* Nokia

* Linux (Ubuntu 9.0.4 or later)


It's also worth noting that the Stanza application for the iPhone and iPod Touch can read both encrypted and unencrypted eReader files. This may be your best bet as there are rumors that the itunes eReader app my not be available for much longer.


HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is the standard format used to represent Web pages. You may struggle with the idea that HTML is an eBook format at all because it is in fact the core format or software language that makes up a large portion of the almost 400 million websites on the internet today. But as the HTML format supports text reflow, tables, and referenced images, it can indeed be listed as one of the elite. What's more, many of the other eBook formats are based loosely on HTML... making it fundamental in the evolution of the eBook industry to date.

HTML documents are plain text files with embedded commands (markups) that specify the way the Web page will look. These markup commands also allow a HTML document to link to other HTML files and multimedia files.

HTML files can be read by Web browsers such as:

* Internet Explorer

* Firefox

* Safari

* Chrome

* Opera

A number of eBook retailers still make ebooks available (online and offline) in the HTML format.

Other formats worth mentioning

Microsoft Reader

Navigation works with a keyboard, mouse, stylus, or through electronic bookmarks. A user can add annotations and notes, create large-print e-books with a single command, or create free-form drawings on the reader pages. A built-in dictionary also exists.

Microsoft announced Microsoft Reader will be discontinued on August 30th 2012.


The Mobipocket e-book format is based on the Open eBook standard using XHTML and can include JavaScript and frames. Readers can add blank pages in any part of a book and add free-hand drawings. Annotations (highlights, bookmarks, corrections, notes, and drawings) can be applied, organized, and recalled from a single location. It runs on most platforms and operating systems.

Amazon, the owner of mobipocket, has discontinued support... although it's still available for now.


FictionBook is a popular XML-based eBook format supported by free readers such as FBReader, Bebook, Haali Reader and STDU Viewer.

Multimedia EBook

Multimedia ebooks include a combination of text, audio, images, video, and/or interactive content formats.


Plucker is an Open Source free mobile and desktop e-book reader application.

Plain text

Speaks for itself.


As the eBook market has grown and adapted to the changes in technology, we have seen a variety of eBook formats crop up. Some of these formats have now disappeared, some have grown strong with development and support, and some have hung on despite all efforts to get rid of them.

When you crunch through the data, the eBook formats listed in this article may only show a small number of the eBook formats available out there, but they are the cream of the crop. There are a variety of formats I have not mentioned because they are just not really used anymore or perhaps only in very small niches.

I think it is safe to assume that the above listed eBook formats will form the core of eBook reading for the foreseeable future.

About the Author Richie O'Brien is passionate about the ebook industry. He decided to create a new and fresh ebookstore called LeisureEbooks. They may be relatively new to the ebook arena but watch out Big Guys...

Source: EzineArticles
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