What Is an E-Book

What Is an E-Book

An e-book is essentially a book in digital format. This format offers some features not available in physical books. It is possible, for example, to store thousands of titles on a single device. E-books have been in use for a long time for various purposes, but they still have great potential for development. Since the rise of tablets and e-readers, their versatility has become even more evident. From historical novels to application tutorials, all kinds of content can be found in this format. The e-book is, in a way, a perfect combination of the magic of a traditional book, the practicality of the digital world and the accessibility provided by the Internet. In this article, we will explain what the main features of an e-book are and give you tips on how to make the most of this format.

Main Features

E-books have many advanced features to make reading easier. They can include, for example, an interactive index, allowing the reader to directly access a specific chapter. In addition, they have a search tool that allows the reader to locate a word or passage of interest. Another important feature is the ability to create markups and notes within the text. Because it is a digital file, an e-book can be formatted, modified, distributed and stored easily. That is, even in its simplest version, an e-book has some clear advantages over a physical book. Compared to the traditional book, the unique characteristics of e-books, facilitate production, circulation and access to information. Therefore, it is important to understand the advantages of this format and how to get the best out of it, whatever its purpose (education, leisure, business, etc.).

Most Common Formats

Digital books currently exist in several formats. It is important to know your options well before buying an e-reader or purchasing a specific e-book on the Internet. After all, features may vary depending on format, and many of these formats are only compatible on specific devices.

EPUB

Epub is an open format. Nevertheless, after its third update, it has the same features a Kindle book has, with one advantage. Unlike the Kindle format, epub can be read by all devices, with the exception of the Kindle itself. All old devices accept epub 2, and most new ones accept epub 3. Epub 3 supports images, sounds and videos. Due to these features, interactive textbooks and children’s books are usually created in epub 3. In addition, epub 3 supports languages other than Latin languages, such as Arabic and Chinese.

AZW and AZW3 (Kindle)

The Kindle format is capable of doing just about everything you’d expect from a state-of-the-art e-book. It supports fixed and fluid layout books, interactivity and content protection tools. Unlike epub, however, it is only compatible with Kindle devices and applications.

Mobi (Mobipocket)

Mobi was the first format used by Amazon for Kindle and was later replaced by AZW. It is still very popular since it can be read by both the Kindle and most other e-readers. Therefore, it is widely used as a “wild card” for e-books that are freely distributed on the Internet.

PDF (Portable Document Format)

PDF files are not necessarily e-books. Still, due to its popularity and compatibility with several electronic devices, such as computers and cell phones, this format is also widely used for digital books. PDF documents do not have the same functionality as specific e-book formats such as epub and AZW. The layout, for example, is fixed. Therefore, documents in this format are usually converted when viewed in e-readers. Their universality, however, compensates for these limitations in many cases. It is a useful format widely applied for books that are distributed for free, for example, such as user manuals and tutorials.

TXT (unformatted text)

Simple and functional, there is no way to dispense with documents in .txt. Its main feature is the absence of any formatting which makes it adaptable to all circumstances. It is the most widely accepted e-book format. Without great resources, it offers the essential: simple and fluid texts.

Where to Find E-Books

E-books can be obtained in many different ways. There are many free sources available on the Internet. Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) is perhaps the best-known initiative in this regard. Founded in 1971, it offers tens of thousands of titles in the public domain that have been digitalized by contributors worldwide. Books in the public domain, in particular, can easily be found in virtual libraries which are often maintained by public bodies or non-profit institutions. The virtual version of the Library of Congress of the United States (www.loc.gov) stands out from the catalogue. There are also services such as Google Books (books.google.com), where you can find complete works or partially available content. The Kindle, Apple and Play Stores also usually offer free titles, including more recent works. Many public or institutional libraries also make digital content available to their patrons. The OverDrive application, for example, is available to members of thousands of libraries around the world, particularly institutions in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Such applications are easy to use. You simply enter your library credentials, search for the desired e-book and can receive it, as a loan, directly on your tablet or phone. Of course, you won’t always get the book you want without paying for it. Copyrighted books, without free distribution, must be purchased on the Internet. Fortunately, the electronic versions are often cheaper than the paper versions. For Kindle devices, the store par excellence is Amazon (www.amazon.com). Although not available in all countries, you can purchase e-books at any of the stores and send them to your device. For epub readers, it is possible to buy titles from several online bookstores around the world and open them on virtually any device except the Kindle. Most e-readers and applications allow you to purchase and download directly from the platform. If you’re a regular reader, it may be worth signing up for a subscription service such as Kindle Unlimited or Scribd.

Advantages of E-Readers

One of the great advantages of digital books is that they can be read on different devices. Even the Kindle has applications for mobile phones, tablets and computers. Nevertheless, having an e-reader can make reading easier and more enjoyable. Of course, mobile devices and tablets in particular can be good reading platforms for their practicality. Apart from the Kindle application, there are Google Play Books and Apple Books (formerly known as iBooks), which also have their own stores. Those who wish to have a read-only application can use EbookDroid or FBReader, among other options. These applications allow comfortable reading on mobile devices. E-books can also be read on computers with Windows or Mac operating systems, thanks to applications such as PC Kindle and Calibre. Finally, there are devices created especially for reading digital books, popularly known as e-readers.

Main Features of E-Readers

The advancement of smartphones and tablets which are becoming increasingly cheaper has led to a decrease in the sale of exclusive devices for reading e-books. There are, however, still plenty of reasons to invest in an e-reader. Some features stand out:
  • Lightness and simplicity
  • Large storage capacity
  • Quick access to stores affiliated with e-reader
  • Synchronization with other devices
  • Special screen for reading
  • Facility for notes and markings
  • Easy search for specific words or passages
  • Compatibility with formats such as PDF and TXT
E-readers usually have a larger and wider screen, 15 cm or more, than a mobile phone to allow for easier reading. The main feature of e-readers, however, is the use of electronic ink, a technology that creates an appearance close to that of words on paper. This feature is less straining on the reader’s eyes which is a great advantage compared to cell phone and tablet screens. Electronic screens can also be read outdoors in sunlight with a simple brightness adjustment. In comparison, other gadgets do not offer the same customization since the screens must also be compatible for other applications. While LED screens are virtually unreadable in sunlight, electronic ink works in any environment. Backlit appliances allow you to read books at night, without external light sources. They also minimize reflections on the screen. This feature makes life easier for those who like to read on trips or before bed, for example. However, this is not available in all models and usually implies an additional cost. E-readers allow you to adjust the font size and change the contrast on the screen. Thus, each reader can customize the e-book to his or her preferences and limitations while reading. There are also many models with touch screen which aids navigation and thus enables more advanced features on the device. In general, e-books can be downloaded to devices via Wi-Fi or with a USB cable and stored in the device’s internal memory. Even the most basic e-readers are capable of storing hundreds or even thousands of books. Battery charge can last for weeks or even months, depending on the level of use.

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Most Popular Models

The best-known e-reader, currently, is Amazon’s Kindle. In its different versions, it is characterized by advanced features in addition to lightness and practicality. Its greatest distinction, however, is perhaps the access to the company’s store. Currently, most e-book releases have a Kindle version. In addition, Amazon’s self-publishing tool allows independent writers to further increase the company’s catalogue. One of the advantages of the Kindle system is the possibility to synchronize the user’s reading history between different devices. You can stop reading a book in the e-reader and continue, for example, in the mobile application at the same point. In addition, the device allows you to open documents with the .txt and .pdf extensions and even convert them in some cases. For those who prefer books in the epub format, there are a wide variety of devices compatible with this format. Kobo’s e-readers are probably the most advanced devices with epub compatibility. They are also the most popular devices that rely on that feature. Kobo models have a quality display, backlighting and other features that make it easy to read, competing directly with the Kindle. Regarding available titles, the brand offers free access to the catalogues of many libraries, by loan, if you have a library membership. Aside from Kindle and Kobo, there are many other brands and models of e-readers. Most of them are compatible with epub. Recently, the major Chinese electronics company, Xiaomi, launched the MiReader with the intention of competing directly with the Kindle. Many large bookstores prefer to launch their own devices. One example is NOOK from Barnes & Noble.

Reading E-Books without an E-Reader

Even if you don’t have a specific electronic device for reading, you can access e-books on your computer, tablet or mobile phone. There are many applications that allow you to buy, organize, lend and, especially, read e-books on these devices with convenience and quality.

Reading on the computer

In the latest Windows versions, the Microsoft Edge browser is set as the default application to open epub files. The files in this format open in a simplified format but are sufficient for reading. For those who use other operating systems or simply want to have more resources when reading an e-book, the use of specific software is most often recommended. The most popular software for reading, organizing and converting e-books to a computer is Calibre, a non-profit software. It is available on Mac, Linux and Windows. Calibre, however, is not just an e-book reader. Its main advantage over other software is the ability to convert various formats and manage metadata. This makes it easier to maintain an extensive and organized digital library. It also facilitates the fast delivery of books and documents to e-readers, including the Kindle. As we explained earlier, most major e-book distributors offer applications for different digital platforms. This aims to ensure synchronization between different devices while discouraging the use of external tools and protecting file integrity. Kindle and Kobo, for example, also have applications for computer, tablet and mobile phone. The OverDrive library service uses Adobe Digital Editions for PC and Mac. Adobe Digital Editions is the industry standard tool for epub books with a fixed layout. Mac users have access to the Apple Books application with several paid or free titles. Kindle users can install Kindle Previewer. It is free for Windows and Mac and supports various screen sizes and editing types as well as synchronization of reading history between other devices.

Reading on a mobile or tablet

Reading e-books on your mobile phone may not be the most comfortable way to read, depending on the size of the screen, but it is a sound option for practicality. Also, it can be advantageous for those who wish to consult specific information or review one’s notes in a book before an important test, for example.

Reading is much more comfortable on a tablet although the screen is not necessarily suitable for longer readings. Typically, the same applications and features are available for mobile and tablet. The main distributors for reading, managing and purchasing e-books have applications for Android and iOS, such as the Kindle and Kobo. In addition, there are the native options on each system with options for users of these devices.

Android

Android devices have a built-in, read-only tool with Google Play Books. You can use this application to read your own e-books if they are in epub, PDF or other convertible text formats. Furthermore, app users have the possibility to buy e-books in the app store which has a considerable catalogue of priced and free options.

iPhone and iPad

For Apple devices, the default application is Apple Books. Like Google Play Books, the catalogue is more limited compared to the Kindle Store. However, the application is easy to navigate and supports PDF, epub and other formats. It also looks stylish. Therefore, reading on the iPhone or iPad is also easy.

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