Thursday, 6 December 2012

Taking Your E-readers for Granted? E-readers 101

The other day I was delivering the first session of 'Join the E-revolution - Self-publishing an E-book' in Carrick-on-Suir library, South Tipperary. We had fifteen participants, more than enough for the small room, and it was an intimate, informal atmosphere. I had brought my gadgets with me - kindle, Kobo, iPhone and laptop (plus a bit of old fashioned paper).

A few people in the room owned e-readers themselves but for many this was a first look at e-books.

There I was, blabbering away about front matter in the mobi or something, when I noticed a few heads bobbing but many more had the 'what on earth are you talking about' expression on their faces. It's only too easy to forget that not everyone is already surfing the wave and all this e-book revolution is still new for a lot of readers and authors.

Then someone asked me if they had to buy an ebook from the Apple store to read it on their iPad or could they buy it elsewhere or even on Amazon. Another wanted to know if I needed to buy multiple copies to view the same book on all my different devices, and why did I need all those devices anyway? 

My initial response was 'Yes, good questions. The answers to these and others are all contained in my book, The New Author, [brandishes paperback in the air] but I'll tell you now what you need to know.'

They all kindly bought a paperback, which was nice of them, but it set me thinking. At the start of this e-publishing voyage I used to have links on my blog to the Amazon Kindle apps because I was trying to convert an Irish reading public to e-books and almost nobody on the island had a kindle. After a while I took that information down from my blog in case readers thought it was patronising but now I think it was a mistake to do so. Sure, some readers know much more than I do about devices, files, apps and stuff (and may well correct me below), but we all have to start somewhere.

So, I thought I'd do a little 'E-readers 101' on e-book files and apps. Here goes.

When you buy an e-book there are two main file types: the ones that works on Kindle (file type azw when bought from Amazon, file type mobi when bought elsewhere) and the ones that work on just about every other reader ( file type epub). There are other e-book file types but let's keep it simple. I'll give pdf a mention as that can be read on pretty much anything without further ado, but it's not great on e-reader devices.

The azw file is the one Amazon will zap onto your Kindle through the ether when you buy an e-book from them. You're not allowed to transfer this file to another person and it generally doesn't work if you copy it yourself onto another device. If you have one of the various Kindles then happy days - you buy, it appears via Whispernet on your device. If you have a different type of e-reader e.g. Nook, Kobo, Sony, then no go, it won't read an azw file. But that's not the end of the story for azw files. Amazon provides free Kindle apps for Apple, Blackberry, Android and Windows devices. If you have a smartphone, an iSomething, desktop or laptop computer, or a tablet then Amazon and their azw files are still an option. 

It's also worth knowing that you can have multiple devices and apps registered with Amazon. One e-book purchase allows me to put that book on my Kindle 4, iPhone, laptop 1 and laptop 2. Even better, as long as the devices are connected to the internet their apps will synchronise the last page read. Reading at work during the tea break, on the Kindle at lunchtime etc, you get the picture? Okay, this isn't an Amazon sales pitch.

E-books readable on Kindle devices and apps can also be bought on other websites as mobi files. Smashwords is a good source for mobi file e-books albeit predominantly from indie authors (hey, nothing wrong with that!) Mobi files have to be transferred to the target reading device by the user using a computer cable, as an email attachment etc. Easy enough. Sites like Smashwords sell mainly unprotected content which means they trust the purchaser not to go distributing the file to everyone on the planet but that does mean you're free to put it on any epub reading device at your leisure.

Now let's look at epub, the other main type of e-book file. If you own a Nook (Barnes & Noble), Kobo or Sony e-reader, or an Apple Mac, iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad then you can buy your e-books from the device manufacturer's online shop. They all use the epub file type and are unable to read mobi or azw files. The simplest way to buy and read epub e-books is direct from the branded shop. Again Smashwords sells mobi files and you can transfer these by computer cable or as an email attachment etc, to your e-reader.

All of the major epub-oriented e-reader device manufacturers also provide apps so you can have their branded purchasing and reading experience on your Android or Windows smartphone, tablet, laptop or iSomething.

An advantage to the epub file format is it can be purchased at one store e.g. Barnes & Noble and read on a dedicated e-reader device from another e.g. Kobo. A few months ago I was lucky enough to win a Kobo Touch online at Good e-Reader and wanted to read some of the mobi files I had accumulated over the past while. After a bit of trial and error I found I could copy paste the files over with the Kobo connected to my laptop by cable. I had to change the filename and insert an extra .kepub suffix before the existing .epub suffix. Similar jiggery-pokery might be required between devices but the epub file format is portable.

So, to summarise:
  • e-reader devices can read either  azw / mobi files (Kindles) or epub files (Nook, Kobo, Sony, Apple);
  • e-reader device manufacturers provide free apps so you can also have your branded e-book shopping and reading experience of choice on your smartphone / tablet / computer.
There are other file types and software is available to convert between file types but this is 101 so let's keep it simple.

Go here for Kindle store and Kindle apps

Go here for Barnes & Noble store and Nook apps

Go here for Kobo store and Kobo apps

Go here for Sony store and Sony apps

Go here for iTunes and iBooks apps

Go here for e-books at Smashwords

Happy reading! 

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