EBook Formats—Where are they Now and Where are they Going?

For those of us who are more seasoned citizens, remember the battle between cassette tapes and 8-tracks? Remember the video format fights between VHS and Beta? Those seem very simple choices when considering what format choices we have today for ebooks. I certainly don’t claim to be the expert here, but hope those more knowledgeable will feel free to chime in with comments, which will expand our knowledge base. Please treat this as a forum.

According to my research there are quite a few methods to view ebooks, and, therefore, quite a few formats. What is a publisher to do? Stick to the most common format or publish his ebooks in several different formats? First, let’s take a look at some of the ebook devices, because they drive the formats. One term you should be aware of is DRM, or “digital rights management,” which refers to techniques that seek to prevent illegal copying or pirating of a digital work, like an ebook or music:

  • Computers (PC and/or Mac) which easily read the pdf format.
  • The Sony Reader primarily uses Sony’s proprietary Broadband eBooks (BBeB) format for documents with DRM but also supports RTF and non-DRM PDF.
  • The Amazon Kindle uses Amazon’s proprietary AZW format, which supports DRM.
  • Flip Book is an online connected technology that uses their proprietary format and plays on a computer (PC or Mac versions). It presents a 3-D appearance for those of us who like flipping pages and want something that looks like a book.
  • As the market expands, there will be more devices. For example, former HarperCollins President and CEO Jane Friedman has launched Open Road Integrated Media (ORIM) in partnership with film producer Jeffrey Sharp. They will use a proprietary format for their own devices. Barnes and Noble, not to be out done by Amazon, will be releasing a new device called the Plastic Logic e-reader. It will use the EPub format that has also been adopted by Sony. Yet Barnes & Noble’s e-bookstore won’t be accessible by Sony Reader. Amazon Kindle users won’t be able to download books from Barnes & Noble’s e-book store. And so the Tower of Ebook Babel continues to grow toward Heaven.

What’s A Publisher To Do?

First, in my opinion, it’s not worthwhile to use DRM features, because it treats all customers as potential pirates. That doesn’t make for good PR, and it adds more complexity to your sales process, which is never a good idea because it gives the customer the opportunity to become frustrated and opt out before the sale is made. Pirating is a problem, but it isn’t that big of one. Besides, pirates will always develop work-arounds, which may render DRM useless.

If you would like a free resource that rates all the different ebook formatting software packages, click here to obtain the Ebook Developers Association free ebook software comparison guide. Personally, for the time being, I will stick to a simple pdf version.

I’m going to wait for device dominance, unless the ensuing battle goes on for too long, then I will consider going to multiple format editions. How will I do that? By relying on a formatting service. One such that I found is Smashwords. Click here to learn how they produce multiple DRM-free format versions and publish the ebooks for you for 15% of the retail price. I consider that a good deal, especially if it takes you out of the fulfillment loop.

Ever the pragmatist, I have offered my approach; however, I easily could have missed something. So, here’s the opportunity for the experts to weigh in and present alternatives. As I said, please treat this as a forum.