Monday, March 22, 2010

E-books and E-Readers

E-books and e-Readers are growing in popularity as people search for more convenient ways to access and store information, but they can pose problems in the publishing industry. There are a huge number of e-book companies on the internet, and also a handful of companies that produce e-Readers, although Sony and Amazon currently dominate the market.

In case you don’t know the different between an e-book and an e-Reader, an “e-book” generally refers to the text file or pdf version of a book, while an e-Reader usua
lly means a hardware or software device.

The Market

The e-book market is huge, and growing rapidly--it is a $350,000,000 market, and increased by 500% between 2002 and 2009. As of September 1, 2009, it was largely dominated by Amazon and Sony; the Kindle had 45% of the market share, while the Sony e-Reader had 30%. There are a number of other e-Readers, however, including the Barnes and Nobles Nook. In addition, Barnes and Nobles and Plastic Logic are developing a new proReader called Que that should be available this summer, while the Apple iPad will be launched in early April. Both the Que and the iPad are not marketin
g exclusively as e-Readers, while the Kindle, Sony e-Reader, and Nook are primarily e-Readers.


The Kindle, Sony e-Reader, and Nook are primarily used as e-Readers, and allow users to access the internet to download books. The Que is marketed towards mobile business professionals who do not want to worry about carrying a number of important documents around with them, but it also functions as an e-Reader. The iPad performs a numb
er of different functions, which are all listed here; the list includes allowing users to download e-books, and also has the added usability feature that users can “flip” a page and pick their books from a digital bookshelf.

Kindle and Sony e-Reader users can utilize a 3G network to download books, while the Que, Nook, and iPad both have wi-fi or 3G options. The Kindle, Sony e-Reader, and iPad both don’t charge the user for internet access with a monthly bill, but include the cost instead in the price of e-books, and it is likely that Que will also use this model. Most of the e-Readers allow users to browse the internet and check e-mail in addition to just using the device as an e-Reader.

One major different between e-Readers is whether they operate on an open or a closed standard. The Kindle operates on a closed standard, which means that books that you purchase on the Kindle can only be read on select devices. The Nook operates an open system, and so books purchased on the Nook can be read on any device, such as a blackberry. The Kindle achieves a closed system because it uses a specific file format that other devices are unable to read, while the iPad will use technology similar to the iTunes closed standard.

EPUB File Format

E-books come in a variety of different file formats, but .epub has become the standard since September 2007. However, many e-Readers support other file formats, including .pdf, .txt, or .doc files. Before EPUB, e-books used the Open E-book Publication Structure, which consisted of a zip file and a manifest file (a metadata file) and used XHTML and CSS.

EPUB is also similar to a zip file, for it is a compressed file that contains a mimetype, META-INF folder, and OEBPS folder. The mimetype merely tells the e-Reader what it in the EPUB file, and the META-INF folder has an XML file that tells the device where the book is in the file. The OEBPS folder, or packaging files, contain the actual book, including separate folders for images, a table of contents, and another file that contains information like the name of the book and the author, as well as the order that the chapters are supposed to go in.

EPUB is designed so that it contains “reflowable” content, which means that the content will wrap the text based upon the device and the reader’s window size. It also can be used on a number of different devices, and there is no fee to use it. It can contain DRM, is styled with CSS, and contains XHTML.

There are a couple of criticisms of EPUB, including that it doesn’t allow for complex layouts (such as a comic book layout) and also doesn’t have a specific way of annotating books. Including the ability to contain DRM information also negates the idea that the file format is open and can be used on any device.

The Publishing Industry

E-books have substantially changed the publishing industry in a number of different ways. Books that are in the public domain are now much cheaper to produce, and can often times be free (books the public domain are books whose copyright has expired). In addition, the hierarchical structure of the book publishing industry can be skipped by some authors, who can self-publish their books for extremely cheap (although they will not benefit from marketing and networking that an agent and publishing company would provide). In addition, book designers are posed with a number of differences between reading on paper and reading on screens. Royalties also need to be re-negotiated, for before publishers received a larger portion of the profit in order to pay for manufacturing and shipping costs.

Most publishers have embraced the revolution, and some are even using the EPUB file extension in-house in place of their old systems.


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