As a general rule, I reply to private correspondence with private replies rather than in a public forum, but I recently was sent a query from Lawrence whose reply I think should be made more publicly available. And that is about how to save and read the e-books I post on my website.
I make my fiction available in a number of formats, including text for those who still rely on dial-up or very slow broadband. In particular, a section of my website is dedicated to e-books which not everyone necessarily knows what they do with.
The main advantage of e-books is that once they are downloaded, they can be read off-line when, for instance, you don’t have an internet connection. The format is also often better than what can be provided by HTML and certainly by text. For instance, the font and page size can be tailored to taste, the pagination is better, and there are features like bookmarks and indexes and the like which suit reading better than can be provided by a standard web page.
However, the difficulty with e-books is that you need an e-book reader of some kind. This is because, on the whole, e-books cannot automatically be read by a web browser.
There are two stages with regards to accessing an e-book. The first stage is when the file is downloaded from a web page by following a link (e.g. http://bradleystoke.altervista.org/eBooks/e-books/Crystal Passion.epub). The second is when you open the file with the appropriate software. And, of course, it’s not always obvious what that software might be.
There are four e-book formats I use for e-books, so I’ll discuss them in turn:
The PDF file is the off-line format used by Adobe Acrobat Reader, but PDF files are nowadays so thoroughly integrated into the browser that the only time you’ll need to use Acrobat Reader is if you opt to save the PDF file to read later (which you can easily do by pressing the Save icon – which still looks like 1.4MB floppy disk). This software can easily be retrieved from Adobe’s website, but be sure you don’t inadvertently download software that Adobe offers but which you don’t want. Acrobat Reader provides a lot of features you may not really want and it isn’t very flexible in fitting the page size to the device you’re reading on, but it’s very good if you want to print the file and read it without a device at all.
The EPUB format is the closest there is to an industry standard. On an iPhone or an iPad or other Apple device, the EPUB file is recognised by iBooks which is provided by default. On Windows or Android devices, you’ll need to download other software to read the files. I use Calibre (which is freeware), but there are plenty of other e-book readers you can use. Once you download the file, you’ll need to open it with the e-book reader of your choice, but when you’ve opened it once the operating system will remember the file format for future use.
The MOBI format is used by Amazon’s Kindle, and so it was necessary for me to provide this option for those who have these devices. Other than Kindles, you need to use an e-book reader app and that’s not supplied by default (even on an Apple device). Again, I prefer to use Calibre, but unless you use a Kindle I don’t see the advantage of going through all the hassle to read a MOBI e-book rather than one in EPUB format. Unfortunately, it’s not all that straightforward to get the document onto a Kindle device or even to read it on a phone or tablet that has the Kindle app. Essentially, Kindles are designed so that the default is that you can only read e-books you’ve downloaded from Amazon.
However, if you own a Kindle, you’ll probably want to read my e-books on it. To do this, you need to download the MOBI e-book to your computer, connect your Kindle (or device with Kindle on it) to your computer, view the Kindle directories or folders through File Explorer or whatever your computer uses, and then copy it into the same directory as the other e-books you’ve downloaded from Amazon. On my Kindle, it’s in a directory called \documents, but it may be different on your device. It will then be picked up by Kindle’s software and you’ll be able to read it. And after all that, you’ll be able to take advantage of the advanced features of a dedicated e-reader.
The LIT format is used by Microsoft’s legacy e-book reader, MSReader. It used to be very easy to download the app, but now requires a bit of detective work on Google to find. It is easy to find and download for Windows Mobile but I can’t guarantee that it works so well on other devices. Personally, I think the software’s still pretty good but now that Microsoft has ceased to maintain it, the app is difficult to recommend even though I’ve continued to supply files in that format.
I’ve made no attempt to handle all the many other e-book formats that exist. There are just too many of them. I anticipate that some time in the future the market will rationalise to two or three standards, but while Amazon retains its grip on the e-book format it will ultimately be up to Jeff Bezos as to which formats will win the day.