An ebook can be published in multiple formats. An ebook (file) format is a predefined data representation of how a digital book is to be stored and displayed on a computer/device. Ebooks today are published using multiple formats like Mobipocket, Microsoft Reader and Adobe Reader to name a few.
What these formats have in common is that they are proprietary (owned by a company). This means that to publish ebooks in a proprietary format one has to buy a (software) license to be able to publish books in that format. A publisher doesn’t have access to the format itself (the grimy details of how a table of contents is represented in data for example), and are locked to the limitations set by the format owner. The software provider has exclusive control over the format/technology.
So, the publisher owns the book (content), but have to use a specific software to retrieve it. To share the book requires the receivers to have software that can read it, and again may be locked to one software provider (can’t use competing software). Or a competing software producer have to purchase a license to obtain compability with the format in question.
Example of locked formats are mobi/prc and lit.
So what effect does all of this have on us book lovers?
- Ebook readers are locked to formats supported by their ebook device/reader. Ebooks aren’t always made available in all formats at once, so one have to wait until it do. There have been many incidents where Amazon ebooks aren’t made available to non-kindle people, or where a book is published in a different formats at later times.
- Operating system hassles. Ebook software which simplifies ebook transfers/management like Mobipocket Reader/Creator supports only Windows, and there’s a big Mac and Linux world out there.
- One becomes locked to software provided by the format owner.
- If an ebook device reads a format poorly, converting between formats can be a hassle.
- When ebook reader software becomes updated, previously purchased ebooks may become outdated/not supported/unreadable.
- When purchasing a new ebook reader, it may not support previously purchased ebooks.
Now, there is an open industry standard (format) for ebooks called EPUB, but at the time of writing it’s not supported by all ebook readers. I also haven’t written about DRM. I will probably write about that at a later time.