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Old 08-03-2008, 04:10 PM   #1
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Question Best ebook format?

A genuine question.

Which ebook format is the best? Why do we have so many different formats? What are the advantages of each format?
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Old 08-03-2008, 05:32 PM   #2
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There are so many formats because each has different DRM (digital rights management), which locks readers into a single format. Without DRM, it would be legal in many places (including the US) to convert between formats, and there would be little reason for multiple formats anyway (because no-one could make money from a new format).

The "best" depends on the criteria used. Technically, LIT is probably the best of the widely used formats. It is based on the OEB format, as is MOBI but MOBI looses some information in making the files a bit easier to process on 10 year old devices. The new ePub format is the successor to OEB, and is certainly an improvement over OEB. However, of the reader software vendors only Adobe is fully supporting ePub and it isn't widely available yet (as ebooks or on reading devices). If "best" means most ebooks available, MOBI is very common but Secure Adobe (usually PDFs, but some now ePub) can sometimes be the only available format.

For simple ebooks (primarily text, with a cover image) there is little to choose between the formats. For ebooks that need care in laying them out on the screen, particularly on small screens, then ePub has the most potential although the potential has not yet been fully realized.
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Old 08-03-2008, 05:46 PM   #3
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My opinion is that .lit is the best format right now. Primarily because the drm can be easily stripped off of it. That means that you have the capability of reading your books on whatever ebook device you decide to buy in the future.

(If you are willing to do something quasi-legal like using convertlit to strip off the drm).

I dislike any format that is proprietary and has no way of being used on future devices. I don't want to spend hundereds of dollars on sony or kindle formatted ebooks, and then have sony or amazon close their ebook shop (like amazon has done once already) and leave me without a way to read my books in a few years.
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Old 08-03-2008, 07:32 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peterbbb View Post
A genuine question.

Which ebook format is the best? Why do we have so many different formats? What are the advantages of each format?
We have many different formats becuse up till now, there wasn't any sort of agreement on a standard, and each vendor rolled their own. Ebooks are simply recapitulating what has happened countless times in the computer industry.

At the bottom, you have plain ASCII text files, consisting of 7 bit ASCII characters, and containing letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and control-characters. Plain text can be read on just about anything, but has no provision for color, images, text attributes, fonts. or links. Incorporating those required new formats.

Adobe created the PDF format, intended to make a document appear the same on all supported platforms, but not originally intended for ebooks. An implicit assumption was that the PDF would be source for a printed document.

Microsoft created the .LIT format used by the Microsoft Reader, and specific to systems running a flavor of Microsoft Windows.

Peanut Press created an ebook reader targeting devices running the Palm Operating System, and devised a markup language called PML for it. Peanut was bought by Palm to become the Palm Digital Media Division, then sold to Motricity who renamed it eReader, and the viewer was posted to a variety of other platforms.

Mobipocket created an ebook format that is essentially encapsulated HTML, and produced versions of their reader for an assortment of platforms. They were subsequently purchased by Amazon.

Sony produced the Sony Reader, and created yet another format for it called LRF.

Amazon produced the Kindle, and used the Mobipocket format as the format the device understood, but used a DRM scheme incompatible with the one used by Mobipocket. People who bought DRM protected titles from Mobipocket for reading on a different device, and then acquired a Kindle, had to buy new copies from Amazon to be able to read them.

A fair amount of stuff exists in HTML format, which can be read on almost anything that can run a browser.

We are now seeing the beginnings of agreement on a standard format called ePub. Major publishers are looking at adopting it (or have adopted it) as an output format from their production processes (aided by the fact that many use Adobe InDesign to do markup and typesetting, and InDesign can output an ePub file as well as the PDF files normally sent to the printer to make plates.) Sony has implemented ePub support in the latest firmware revision for their reader. Mobipocket Creator software can take an ePub file as input for conversion to a Mobipocket file.

The fly in the ointment is Digital Rights Management, and the measures implemented to make sure you can't simply copy and share your purchased electronic books files with others. DRM provisions tend to lock you to a specific device for your content, regardless of the format, and if you lose or break the device, you might just have to buy a new copy of the books as well as replace the device.

The cynical decision these days seems to be "Which format makes it easiest to break the DRM, and convert it to a form readable on what I have?" The answer there is Microsoft LIT.

Personally, I don't buy DRM protected titles. I want to get the content once, and read it on whatever I happen to have. My first choice is HTML, because it can be read native or easily converted for another device. My second choice is Mobipocket because there are versions of the viewer for a wide range of devices.

I lose out on electronic copies of current commercial titles, but my "to read" backlog of electronic books I already have is large enough that I need to learn how to read a book with each eye to have a prayer of catching up, so I'm not exactly hurting for content...
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Old 08-03-2008, 08:25 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DMcCunney View Post
The fly in the ointment is Digital Rights Management, and the measures implemented to make sure you can't simply copy and share your purchased electronic books files with others. DRM provisions tend to lock you to a specific device for your content, regardless of the format, and if you lose or break the device, you might just have to buy a new copy of the books as well as replace the device.
I'm curious as to which book sellers would make you purchase new copies of DRM ebooks??

I know that Amazon keeps a back up of all of my media so that I can redownload it as I need to. If my Kindle dies on me, that one thing I can rest easy about. I should not need to make all of my purchases again.
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Old 08-03-2008, 09:05 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickyMaveety View Post
I'm curious as to which book sellers would make you purchase new copies of DRM ebooks??

I know that Amazon keeps a back up of all of my media so that I can redownload it as I need to. If my Kindle dies on me, that one thing I can rest easy about. I should not need to make all of my purchases again.
Let me clarify that. Suppose you lose or break both of your Kindles. Suppose as well that a new, non-Kindle reader comes out with features compelling enough that you buy it. What happens to your Kindle content?

Right now, for DRMed content, you are locked into the Kindle platform. That may be fine for you now, but will it always be?

I want to download content once, and read it on whatever I happen to have. So I want a format supported on a broad number of platforms, and I want DRM (if I must have it) which will let me change platforms at will.

I refuse to be locked into a platform by DRM.
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Old 08-03-2008, 09:14 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by DMcCunney View Post
Let me clarify that. Suppose you lose or break both of your Kindles. Suppose as well that a new, non-Kindle reader comes out with features compelling enough that you buy it. What happens to your Kindle content?

Right now, for DRMed content, you are locked into the Kindle platform. That may be fine for you now, but will it always be?

I want to download content once, and read it on whatever I happen to have. So I want a format supported on a broad number of platforms, and I want DRM (if I must have it) which will let me change platforms at will.

I refuse to be locked into a platform by DRM.
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Now, I understand you better. When you said "as well as replace the device" I assumed that you meant the same device.

I agree that purchasing DRM ebooks does lock you into a specific type of reader ... however, that does assume that the purchaser is one of those sweet and honest types who would never even think of stripping off that bad ol' DRM in the face of losing all of that content.

Thankfully ... I am not that purchaser. If someday, in the dim and distant future, I am forced to give up my beloved Kindle and purchase something that will not read Kindle content ... you can pretty much bet the farm that I will be giving a one fingered salute to the copyright laws.
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Old 08-03-2008, 09:54 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by RickyMaveety View Post
I know that Amazon keeps a back up of all of my media so that I can redownload it as I need to. If my Kindle dies on me, that one thing I can rest easy about. I should not need to make all of my purchases again.
Ah, but what if your next e-book reader isn't an Amazon device? Without DRM-breakage all those books you've bought will be inaccessible on your next-generation device.
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Old 08-03-2008, 10:01 PM   #9
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Thanks for that explanation Dennis. To me it's always interesting to see the way that technology shakes itself out. I always try to make purchases that have the widest accessibility also. Luckily since I really like SF and fantasy I buy mostly from Baen. But eReader and Fictionwise seem to have wide selections of formats too.

I often wonder why people willingly tie themselves to one proprietary format?

Last edited by marvmax; 08-03-2008 at 10:04 PM.
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Old 08-03-2008, 10:04 PM   #10
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HTML is probably the best format for long-term storage to be able to convert to other formats down the line.
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Old 08-03-2008, 10:04 PM   #11
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Now, I understand you better. When you said "as well as replace the device" I assumed that you meant the same device.
Not necessarily. Though the PDA I use as a reader is a Horrible Example of restrictive DRM. It was designed to be a hand-held gaming platform as well as a Palm OS PDA, and had hardware inteneded to make it a gaming platform. To lure game developers concerned about casual copying and sharing of commercial titles, the designers modified the OS to include DRM provisions. Commercial titles for the device that used the API for access to advanced features of the hardware had to be digitally signed. Once installed, they were locked to that device. If you lost or broke your device, and got a replacement, you had to get a new authorization key from the manufacturer of the device, not the software vendor, before you could install and play your game. The vendor went belly up. There were some unhappy gamers out there...

Quote:
I agree that purchasing DRM ebooks does lock you into a specific type of reader ... however, that does assume that the purchaser is one of those sweet and honest types who would never even think of stripping off that bad ol' DRM in the face of losing all of that content.
Depending upon the format, it doesn't lock you into a specific type of reader at all. Mobipocket, for example, has reader versions for the PC, Palm OS PDA, WinCE/Windows Mobile PDA, Symbian based cell phones, and Blackberries, and their default DRM will let you register up to four devices and read your purchased content on any of them. eReader has a similarly broad range, and supports Mac OS/X and the iPhone, which Mobi doesn't, with DRM that lets you read your content on any device.

With Amazon, you can read it on anything you like... as long as it's a Kindle.

Quote:
Thankfully ... I am not that purchaser. If someday, in the dim and distant uture, I am forced to give up my beloved Kindle and purchase something that will not read Kindle content ... you can pretty much bet the farm that I will be giving a one fingered salute to the copyright laws.
And you are someone who hangs out in places like this, and can do so. I fear the broader market is not in that league.
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Old 08-03-2008, 10:32 PM   #12
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Thanks for that explanation Dennis. To me it's always interesting to see the way that technology shakes itself out.
The standards process can be grimly amusing. Vendors involved all tend to piously proclaim "Oh, yes! We firmly support standards! Do it our way!"

Quote:
I always try to make purchases that have the widest accessibility also. Luckily since I really like SF and fantasy I buy mostly from Baen. But eReader and Fictionwise seem to have wide selections of formats too.
Well, eReader has versions of the reader for a wide range of devices, and Fictionwise carries titles in a wide range of ebook formats.

The other problem with lack of a standard is "Is the content I want to read available in a format my device supports?" We've had the spectacle of ebook publishers competing to make their ebook format the dominant one, when they should be competing like paper book publishers do -- on the strength of their catalog.

And some formats are problematic, even if they are technically supported by your device. For instance, if I have any other choice, I don't get content in PDF format. Most PDFs are not created with the options that will let them reflow to fit the screen they are displayed on, and can be painful to read on a handheld device.

I'm a big fan of the Baen offerings as well, and have the entire Free Library collection. I prefer to grab the HTML versions, and convert those for reading on my PDA, but the other options are useful.

Quote:
I often wonder why people willingly tie themselves to one proprietary format?
Because they don't know they have alternatives, or don't see the restriction as onerous.

Folks who bought the Amazon Kindle, for example, can point to a broad range of content and superior pricing as reasons to have a Kindle. That's fine as long as the Kindle meets their needs. It will be less so if they ever wish to switch platforms.
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