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An ebook is an electronic or digital version of a book. The term is used ambiguously to refer to either an individual work in a digital format, or a device used to read books in digital format. The second usage should be deprecated in favour of the more precise "ebook device".

The term ebook is also often used synonomously with E-text, although the latter is really the more general case, and ebook the more limited.

Table of contents
1 Formats
2 Devices
3 Comparison with Print Books
4 Projects
5 Commercial ventures
6 References


The ebook community has available to it a substantial array of options when it comes to choosing a format for production. While the average end user might arguably simply want to read books, every format has its exponents and champions, and debates over "which format is best" can become intense.

Formats available include, but are by no means limited to:

Of these, the main contenders appear to be HTML, ASCII, PDF and latterly XML. TeX is too complex for general use, and other formats are directed more at specialist needs.

To some extent, the choice of format will depend on the aims of the creator of the document. E-text projects generally fall into two camps: those concerned with accurate reproduction of existing paper editions, where it becomes important to preserve features of the original, such as pagination; and those concerned with the creation of new, online editions, where such features are unimportant. (Although it is the opinion of this author that creators are often unclear as to which camp they belong.) Examples of the former are MOA and the Oxford Text Archive. Examples of the latter are Project Gutenberg and eBooks@Adelaide.

For commercial publication, digital rights management is all important, and tends to override other considerations in the choice of format. Recent history has seen players such as Microsoft and Adobe enter the market with purpose-built software which addresses the right management needs of commercial publishers.

Attempts are underway to create a standard format for ebooks, notably by The Open eBook Forum (OeBF), based on XML/XHTML.


People have read ebooks on PDA's such as the Palm since those devices first appeared, and the Palm and its imitators remains one of the most popular devices for reading ebooks.

Various attempts have been made, and continue to be made, to produce purpose-built devices for reading ebooks. One of the earliest, and probably the most successful of these was the 'Rocket eBook', and others include the 'Softbook', 'Hiebook', and 'Franklin eBookman'.

The advantage of such devices lies in their portability and capacity for holding large numbers of books in memory. But consumer resistance remains strong, with most readers still preferring the traditional paperback. One apparently insurmountable problem with such devices is cost: manufacturers have seemed unable to produce at a low enough price to make them attractive to large numbers of readers.

Comparison with Print Books

Some advantages of ebooks include:

On the other hand, print books have some advantages too, including:


Project Gutenberg may claim to be the earliest project to create an archive of ebooks, having started in 1978. Many other projects have followed, mostly based on public domain texts (often derived from Project Gutenberg).

While no single directory of available ebooks exists (try Google), two directories are very useful, indexing around 20,000 texts between them: The On-Line Books Page and The Internet Public Library Online Texts Collection.

Commercial ventures

Many publishers are reluctant to produce ebooks over fears of piracy and it wasn't until the 21st century that many publishers considered it a worthwhile forum, despite some earlier successes such as the 1988 ebook of William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive, and Stephen King's Riding the Bullet, which garnered half a million downloads when it was released on March 14, 2000 (only the first part of the book was free, and King gave up when he couldn't get enough people to pay for the remaining parts).

The lack of legitimate ebooks led to rapid growth of the number of unlicensed ebooks being produced, a growth which still continues - most significantly in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. This had resulted in the number of unlicensed ebooks to outweigh the licensed ebooks by several orders of magnitude.

The popular e-tailers and Barnes and Noble sell ebooks in the two most popular formats, Microsoft's Reader format and Adobe's eBook format. Citing profitability concerns, Barnes and Noble stopped selling ebooks in 2003. Fictionwise is a popular online ebook store that sells ebooks in a variety of formats.

Recent attempts to revive ebooks include ExeBook, an ebook compiler that produces an exe file that, when executed, produces a simulated book onscreen, complete with page texture. The etext is encrypted as graphic images so that automatic text copying is very difficult. The fear of exe files picking up viruses, however, is hampering acceptance.

A press release issued by The Open eBook Forum (OeBF), early December 2003, reports more than 1-million ebooks sold over the first 3 quarters of 2003. OeBF 2003 third quarter analysis, based on data from ebook publishers and retailers, shows strong double-digit growth over the same period in 2002, in three aspects:


See also: E-text, digital library, Project Gutenberg