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Which eBook format

Which eBook format

- Not all eReaders are created the same – Different ebook formats for different eReaders -

Old book e-book formats

which ebook format

Which ebook format? What a question to ask as there are a lot of formats that can be used, but there is NOT one eReader that can read them all. Why? Domination. (just love that word)

There are four main companies, or competitors (some will argue with me on this, that’s okay) Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony eReader and Kobo eReader. Each company has variations of the same machine, but I will class them all as eReaders.

The one main attribute that connects these machines together is that they all read ebooks (duh!) But, they can’t all read the same ebook! Yes, you might see the same ebook on sale on Amazon, then you pop over to Barnes and Noble and see it there and if you are curious, you may fly over to Sony’s ebookstore. If you want to read the one book on all the machines, then sadly you will have to purchase the three versions for the three machines. Maybe! (if you have all three machines, lucky you!)

When the eReaders started to make an appearance, all the manufacturers wanted to push THEIR format as the format of choice. (Sony does it all the time)

VHS vs. Betamax

We have to look at history to see what happened to a fragmented market when two formats came out and divided the market. VHS vs. Betamax video recorders.

This was really the ‘Format Wars‘ of in-compatible models at consumer-level in the late 70′s and the 80′s

To quickly go over the bloody past, in 1972, Philips corporation came put with the Philips N1500 VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) format. Sony was a bit slow, when in 1975 they came out with Sony Betamax, then JVC came into the market with the competing VHS (Video Home System), then later Philips came out with the Video 2000 (thinking ahead) This was a collaboration between Philips and Grundig!

So, after a while we had the Betamax – VHS format WAR! Anybody that came onto the scene quickly disappeared, such as Sanyo’s V-Cord and Quasar’s ‘Great Tie Machine’ (I wonder why that disappeared!)

Sony developed the ‘Beta’ and expected that other electronic manufactures to back it. (slightly big headed) JVC was not having this and came up with the VHS system. Sony was so outraged, that they went to the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry to complain (SHOCKING!) Thus, started the format war.

In-fact, at one time, when Sony was meeting Matsushita executives, they were told to embrace VHS, Sony knowing everything, went against this advice. They claimed production was too close to make compromises.

So, on the market came VHS and Betamax. VHS was cheaper and in the beginning had a longer recoding tape, 120 mins, compared to 60 mins for Betamax, Over the years, the world took to VHS. For 30 years JVC dominated the home market with VHS. Sony didn’t realise that people wanted an affordable recording machine, and that was what JVC provided.

This format war nearly started again, between Blue-ray and HD DVD. That quickly ended with the industry (Hollywood) selecting Blue-Ray.

But, we have a format war with ebooks, and it isn’t going away.

Below is a table of the formats that Smashwords can accept. You will see the format and the introduction to what it is.


Electronic Publication. This is probably the most important and most used format in ebook today. Why? It’s an Open Industry Format, managed by the independent Digital Publishing Forum. It’s also free. If your ebook is using the ePub format, then good news, it can be read by MOST eReaders on the market. Including the iPhone (I know it’s not an eReader, but it seems a popular device!)

It is really the equivalent to the Blue-ray. It’s very good, always being improved and importantly, gaining increased support within the industry. Barnes and Noble, KOBO, Sony (ha ha) and Apple use ePub. (Who’s missing?)


Portable Document Format. It goes without saying, that this is a very important format for the publishing industry, and no surprise that Adobe would like it to be no 1 in the ebook formats. (that’s not going to happen)

The format can be read by practically every device that can read a document. PDA’s, Tablets, Phones, Laptops and hand held eReaders.
It’s a great format for documents with complicated formatting, charts, images or indexing. When it comes to printing, what you see on a PDF is what you will get when you print. But, PDF is very inflexible. Readers had a difficult time changing font sizes, or styles to match their preferences. It’s a great format but too ridged for eReaders.


Plain Text. The most used and accepted format for writing. Has been around since the dinosaurs and had outlasted them. (It must be doing something write!)

This however, lacks formatting, but will work on practically every device. As the name suggests, it’s plain text – a big no no for images (not good)


This is an interesting one. Mbbipocket is used by Amazon Kindle. In-fact, Amazon bought the company in 2005. The story goes that Adobe was not going to continue selling its eBook packaging and serving software to Amazon (I bet they look back now, and think…)

So, what does any great monolithic company do, take a leaf out of Microsoft’s book and buy a company. MOBI format is the Kindle format. Amazon still let you download the free MOBI reader and MOBI Creator for your computer. (That’s nice of them)

The MOBI format is supported by many eReading apps, both on the computer and mobile devices. The interesting thing is, that if you use MOBI on Amazons Kindle Direct Publishing page, you are asked if you want to add DRM. (we’ll go into that later) But, on Smashwords, they don’t allow DRM on the MOBI format.

Critics say that on Amazon, YOU MUST add DRM to your eBook(s). That’s not true, Amazon gives you the option.

On my eBook, I chose No DRM.


Rich Text Format. A simple cross platform format that can be used on many wordprocessors on many different computers.


This is the format for Sony’s eReading device.


PalmDoc. WOW!

When the Palm was the King of mobile devices. PalmDoc primarily used on the now defunct Palm Pilot devices. The eReading app is available for Symbian OS, Windows Mobile/Smartphone. Desktop and Machintosh.

There are a whole lot more formats, which I will list at the end of this document, but for now, those listed are the one’s to look out for.

The question still remains.

Which eBook format?

Let’s try and narrow down the list. You should be more concerned with just two (That’s awesome! We started with seven, now we have two. Isn’t life simple!)

The two are: Blue-Ray and HD DVD (Sorry) MOBI and ePub.

To be honest, it should read MOBI AZW PRC and ePub. Amazon has the three formats for their Kindle, but if you just think MOBI for Kindle and ePub for the rest, you won’t go wrong. (Confusing, heh!) I’ll explain.

AZW is the format for the Kindle. It gets converted from MOBI into AZW when you upload the file on the Kindle Direct Publishing site. AZW is Amazon’s own eBook format, but is based on the Mobipocket format. (Like I said, isn’t life simple!)

All books sold as a Kindle book are sold with the AZW extension.

So, in my case it is:

The Faeries of Birchover Wood.azw

The Kindle will read MOBI files if they are directly added to the Kindle via a PC.

MOBI files have the extension .mobi and prc. So, again, my book before the Amazon conversion is:

The Faeries of Birchover Wood.mobi


The Faeries of Birchover Wood.prc

If you need to convert another document to be read on the Kindle, then the MOBI format is recommended. There is however a rumour (not by me) that in the future, Kindle may accept ePub. (I think it’s a no brainer. One machine that takes all formats. Isn’t that what the industry and the public want!)

ePub or MOBI

ePub or MOBI

Which is the best format for ebooks?

Okay, so now you want to buy an ebook after reading this article (Or maybe not) Which ebook format should I choose?

There’s a song by a group called, ‘Dead or Alive’ and the words go:

“You spin me right round, baby

right round like a record, baby

right round round round”

To me, that’s what it’s like when choosing an ebook reader.
As a reader, you want to have an experience that is trouble free when using technology. I should as a buyer of books and ebooks, just go to any online store, browse what they have and buy, no matter what machine I have in my possession.

I’m luck, I have an IT background, I love technology. I can work out all these silly formats and what machine they work with. But, for the less informed who rightly expect it to ‘just work!’ That’s not the case.

An ebook format should have an Open Standard. Should be supported by all manufacturers of hardware and software, and be available to everyone. Sadly that is not the case as you have seen.

Some manufacturers insist on using proprietary formats. That is, the company owns that format or technology. Amazon own MOBI, but they do not own ePub. No one does.

Sony has one, which is BbeB (They have never been good at names) But, thankfully they do support ePub. I think they saw the outcome before it came, and hats off to them for accepting ePub.

Personally, Epub is the better choice.

Now, this may sound silly to some and not to others, but I have a Kindle and I picked that purely because I wanted my book on the Kindle first. I bought it to see what it really would look like. Not just rely on the PC app that you can download.

I really like the results. I love the Kindle.

The Kindle was not my first choice. The Nook was. I REALLY wanted the Nook, but as I live in the UK, I couldn’t get it. Sure, I looked into buying one from America, but the online store is our of bounds If you connect to it outside of America.

I looked at Kobo and Sony. At the time, Kobo I wasn’t convinced (Now I am) and Sony, well I am not a great fan. I do think they produce a beautiful reader, but it doesn’t do anything for me.

I am very happy with the Kindle, but if the Nook came to town, I would look at it again.

The following gives you a summary of the devices and what formats they can read.

E-book readers formats

E-book readers formats

Why MOBI is a format that can take on ePUB. The company, Amazon is a controlling force. It has an integrated consumer platform. It controls the software, hardware, selling, reselling, delivery and publishing and even price at times. Basically, they get into a market position, whereby they can force their own technology onto you. You are forced to take or leave it. But, because they are a controlling influence, sooner or later they can win the battle.

Their technology is adopted into the industry.

Epub is the better format, as it is and open standard, but I can understand from a personal point of view and experience, why people buy the Kindle.

Now that the market is getting more mature, I think that there won’t be so much an outright winner, but either a convergence of formats and technologies, or the market is big enough that it can sustain the two formats, ePub and MOBI.

Just to add to the image. The readers can also accept:

Amazon Kindle, Fire, Touch – TXT, non-DRM MOBI

Sony Reader – TXT, RTF, DOC, BBeB

Kobo eReader, Touch, Vox – TXT, RTF, HTML

In summary, it really comes down to you as the purchaser and user of the eReader. I am happy with the Kindle. I can deal with the formats at the moment, and as of now, all the books I want are on the Kindle and Nook etc. If the time comes when exclusivity starts to take over, then my choice of eReader may change.

I just thought I would also add to this article DRM, the security wrapper that can be attached to an ebook.


Now, about DRM.

DRM is Dracula and ePUB is Van Helsing. Why?

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and is a way of protecting a file from being copied or duplicated.


Vampre DRM

It first showed it’s ugly head when Sony (again) added DRM on the music CD’s they sold under Sony BMG Music. It was so controversial, that a lot of the music CD’s would not play on a standard music player, and if played on your home computer would refused, it was found to crash your PC if you were using Windows OS (what a surprise!)

Also, from Sony, the CD would without permission install a piece of software called a ‘rootkit’

This was a severe security vulnerability that others could exploit, if they knew what they were looking for.

As DRM was not industry standard, the music CD could not display the CD logotype, which is found on CD’s that follow the Red Book CD standard.

After it came to light, Sony was forced to recall millions of CD’s, try and patch up the security holes placed on people’s computers and finalise a few class action lawsuits. (They never learn)

DRM is not used by the four big record labels. But, it is still used.

Wikipedia has extensive coverage of DRM, but here I am limiting it to ebooks.

If authors choose to have DRM placed on their ebooks through Amazon, then the DRM or wrapper stops the buyer of that ebook from sharing or distributing it on other machines.

If I have DRM ebooks on my Kindle, and I want to transfer them onto the Kindle Fire, the DRM will stop me from doing that.

Yes, there are DRM ripping software on the Internet, and I am not advocating the use of it or telling you where to go, but If companies such as Amazon keep doing this, people will use software to strip DRM off there purchased ebooks.

When you find DRM you are being told by the company that they do not trust you.

My ebook ‘The Faeries of Birchover Wood’ is DRM FREE. If you read the copyright notice, I even tell people that they have the right to distribute it free of charge without my permission. You can copy it as many times as you like. Give it away.

I still own the rights to the story, but as an author, I give you the permission to copy it.

At least Amazon gives you a choice to have DRM on your published ebooks or not. Smashwords refuses to add it. As far as I know, when Smashwords adds your DRM Free eBook to Apple’s iBookstore, Apple will wrap it with their own DRM. The author has used Smashwords for a DRM eBook. Apple adds DRM. (Crasy!)

Even more crazy is Barnes and Noble. As far as I know, they add DRM to Public Domain eBooks!!! They did answer this by saying “They encrypt them (Public Domain eBooks) with DRM to protect the copyright.” The copyright doesn’t exist, that’s they are called Public Domain book. (Makes me swear!)

If I have any more information I will happily add it to this article.

If you can leave a comment below with what you thought of this article, that would be great. You can also leave ‘You’ve forgotten…’ comment, then I will be very happy to look into it and add later.

Have a happy reading day!

If you would like to know a little bit about the history of the eReader, then click on The History of the e-book reader to find out.

Return to Let’s Get E-Published

Article by Ian S. Rutter


Ian S. Rutter is an indie publisher of a children’s book called ‘The Faeries of Birchover Wood’ He is writing the sequel, a short story and a horror novel. For fun he spends time with his three children and his wife. He loves reading, drawing, walking and daydreaming.

Connect with me on Google+


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