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  #1  
Old 06-25-2011, 07:38 AM
DrCube DrCube is offline
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E-book formats: Why?

Why are there currently so many competing ebook formats? Why are there any at all? What problem is being solved here? Is text on a screen really a new technology at this point? Is it all about the DRM?
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  #2  
Old 06-25-2011, 08:09 AM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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Money. Why else?

First, you want convenience in an ebook. A text file, like a video or mp3 file, has content. The extra features are missing. Just as a DVD has scene selection, menus etc., an e-book can have chapters and subchapters, illustrations, cover, etc. So already the format has to deviate from plain text. Word or PDF are OK, but .doc does not always include the right details, and may have more complex stuff like text boxes and tables and detailed picture placement, special margin commands, fonts etc. that are irrelevant in a strictly-electronic document, or you may want to override. PDF is already page-layout done, so resizing etc. is not a PDF-friendly function. The 8.5x11 is useless if you you are trying to read on a paper-back-sized screen.

So... we need a special format that is meant explicitly for electronic readers and works with them.

The big problem is DRM (Digital RIghts Management) and consumer lock-in. Apple got its major head-start in the music biz (Apple-Jobs, not Apple-John-Paul-George-Ringo) by selling only it's own AAC format that could not be played elsewhere. Kindle, Kobo, Nook etc. hope to do the same. Plus, since text is even smaller in byte-count than audio, the major concern was piracy. So each manufacturer produces their own locked-in format and you will pay $15 or more for a computer file that will only work on the hardware they say it will work on. When they go belly up or give up on their product, who knows what will happen to your then-useless files?

Another problem is that many eBook makers will try to "lock up" publishers, exclusive deals so the book you want can only be found on THEIR hardware.

Last edited by md2000; 06-25-2011 at 08:12 AM..
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  #3  
Old 06-25-2011, 08:24 AM
LSLGuy LSLGuy is online now
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ETA: Typed too slowly.

It's all about the idea that if my company wins the race to be the standard format, I'll be able to collect a license fee on every book ever sold. Just like always with competing standards.

One or two will win out & the others will disappear.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 06-25-2011 at 08:24 AM..
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  #4  
Old 06-25-2011, 09:09 AM
jabiru jabiru is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LSLGuy View Post
One or two will win out & the others will disappear.
What's the educated guess on which format will turn out to be the VHS of the e-book world? I don't want to go down one path to find myself the proud owner of a Betamax e-book reader.
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  #5  
Old 06-25-2011, 09:20 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Converting a heavily formatted document from a program like Word into a format that doesn't use page breaks and must be scalable up and down to any size and can't handle tables or the other usually inserts in a nightmare. That's why there are so many formats to try to handle displays. Take a look at this pdf, The Smashwords Style Guide, which explains in detail how to strip a manuscript down to what appears to be worthless nothing in order for them to display it in the various e-reader formats. Designing readability for books is a known art that matured over hundreds of years. Designing readability for e-books is in its infancy and won't begin to approach good probably for decades.

jabiru, I wouldn't worry about formats. Most readers already will accept a large range of formats, and computers and tablets and notebooks already work with everything but the most proprietary. The problem isn't at the reader end, but at the author end. You may think of books being pure, unvarying text, but they contain many subtleties of design to convey meaning, 90% of which e-books can't yet handle well.
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  #6  
Old 06-25-2011, 10:31 PM
Trinopus Trinopus is online now
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I know that there *are* ebook readers that display flat ASCII txt format with no problems at all -- I have one -- but are there any that *do not?* Are there any that *require* a specific proprietary format?

Trinopus
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  #7  
Old 06-26-2011, 01:43 AM
Sleel Sleel is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
Apple got its major head-start in the music biz (Apple-Jobs, not Apple-John-Paul-George-Ringo) by selling only it's own AAC format that could not be played elsewhere.
Not true. AAC is and always was an open format, not created by Apple, and not controlled by them. The DRM layered on top of the music file was a proprietary standard, but they dropped that as soon as the music companies let them. iTunes music files have been DRM-free for about 5 years.

They started the iTunes store to help sell iPods. The growth of iPod sales had nothing to do with the so-called "lock in" that a lot of people talk about. According to Apple's sales figures, they sell about 2030 songs per iPod, on average. So about 97% of the music on an average 1000-song iPod came from somewhere else, usually copied from CDs. The music has been about break-even for them since day one. They still make very little profit from the music part of the iTunes store, but it's good for them to offer a whole package experience.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Trinopus View Post
I know that there *are* ebook readers that display flat ASCII txt format with no problems at all -- I have one -- but are there any that *do not?* Are there any that *require* a specific proprietary format?
Every reader I'm aware of supports txt files. You'd have to go out of your way to cripple something for it to NOT support plain text.

The main reason for the different file formats is page layout. Plain text looks like ass without any kind of formatting control. Almost all of the ebook files are some form of HTML and/or XML and markup. While typesetting is a mature field, digital layout is still in its infancy.

The multitude of formats has way more to do with competing standards than any DRM or lock-in. And in fact, md2000 has it exactly backwards with regards to the relationship between the reader manufacturers and the publishers. The publishers are the ones who don't get paid if their books are widely available in an easily copied form. They are the ones who are insisting on DRM and limitations on loaning or transferring books. The companies that make ebook readers couldn't care less about what files you use, just as long as you buy their hardware.

Amazon makes money on both ends, so they do have some stake in the ebook sales end too, but they also have the example of the iTunes store to show them that offering a good shopping experience is paramount. iTunes, when it started, was competing with free download services like Napster and other grey-to-black market sites. The reason they got business was convenience and quality.

CDs are much more easily copied than books, though, so there is at least some possibility that companies will try to pull something. But, forces against that are the publishers, who want their work distributed as widely as possible and will resist deals with ebook makers that interfere with that, and customers, who will go for the sweet spot between convenience, cost, and ease of use every time. If it's easy to get, but a pain in the ass to use, people stop buying. Formats that tend to too-severe restrictions in what you can do with them will not last that long.

And for those who are really worried about the DRM thing, it's not that hard to strip it off. That's one of the reasons few companies who actually understand the tech business want to be in the position of gatekeepers playing cat and mouse with crackers. It's the publishing houses, music labels, and other old-guard non-techies who think that DRM is going to solve their problems coming to grips with a changing market.
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  #8  
Old 06-26-2011, 11:55 AM
Justin_Bailey Justin_Bailey is offline
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I have to admit, I'm a bit confused by this thread as there are really only two ebook formats: Amazon's Kindle format (azw) and the EPUB format that is used by everybody else.

Yes there are a few other minor standards, but few eReaders actually use them.
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  #9  
Old 06-26-2011, 10:45 PM
Trinopus Trinopus is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sleel View Post
. . . Plain text looks like ass without any kind of formatting control. . . .
??? Maybe I've been lucky, but I can't tell the difference. Obviously, a fully-formatted book can have different font styles, font sizes, bolds and italics, and illustrations... But ultimately the actual *text* seems to look the same whether it's a book published for Kindle or just imported as text.

(In some cases, I've had to do some formating; some text files double-CR between paragraphs, which I change to single-CR-Tab.)

(Another thing I've noticed is that sometimes a text file won't "end" properly; the Kindle will choke, right toward the very last few "locations." I tend to pad the end of text files with a couple dozen CRs, and that seems to solve the problem.)

I have had problems with some ebooks where the page-width exceeds the Kindle's display width, forcing me to scan left, right, left, right...at every single line! Ick! Intolerable!

I'm guessing the technology is not entirely mature?

Trinopus
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  #10  
Old 06-27-2011, 04:49 AM
Raguleader Raguleader is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justin_Bailey View Post
I have to admit, I'm a bit confused by this thread as there are really only two ebook formats: Amazon's Kindle format (azw) and the EPUB format that is used by everybody else.

Yes there are a few other minor standards, but few eReaders actually use them.
Well, you could make a solid argument for PDF also being a widespread eBook format, but not one that's necessarily well-suited to hand-held eBook readers such as the Kindle or Nook.
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