Most of us know what an ebook is – it’s text structured like a paper book that is presented to us digitally, similar to the way that a web page appears in that the text appears on a screen. From there, though, an understanding of the terminology and of how an ebook works or is presented typically takes a sharp downward turn among authors. Yet, knowing that information can help authors make better decisions when self-publishing.
Among the important concepts to know are the various ways that an ebook can be presented to readers. There are fair major formats – PDF, Epub, Mobi and AZW.
Long before there were ereaders, tablets and Smartphones, authors distributed ebooks via PDF, or a Portable Document Format. This is a fixed version of what appears like sheets of paper that can be seen on laptops and other computers. Often when creating either a paperback or an ebook, the author must convert their MS Word document into a PDF, which then is uploaded at a website to the ebook’s printer or distributor.
An alternative to the PDF is the Epub, or electronic publication. The Epub is an international standard used by ebook vendors to display text and photos on a screen. Nearly 300 ebook vendors use Epub, most notably Apple’s iBooks and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.
Amazon.com and its division, Kindle, do not use Epub to display text and photos but a version of Mobi, a standard that once was used by the Mobipocket eBook. Technically, the Kindle uses AZW, or Amazon Whispernet, but many often say that Kindle uses Mobi. That’s because the only difference between AZW and Mobi is the former uses DRM, or Digital Rights Management, which includes access controls limiting use of the text and the devices it’s being read on.
An ebook can be designed in MS Word that can be converted to both Epub and the Mobi/AZW formats. Typically, the MS Word file goes through what is called nicknamed a “meat grinder” at a vendor (such a Kindle DP or Smashwords) that converts the MS Word document (or the PDF that the MS Word was converted to) into an Epub or a Mobi/AZW file that then can be read on ereaders, tablets, mobile phones, laptops, desktops and so on.
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