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Posted on Mar 05, 2021

What is an Ebook? The Magic of the Electronic Book

When is a book not a book? When it’s an ebook, of course! In the late 1990s, the invention of “electronic paper” suddenly opened up a world of possibilities. With this low-energy technology, people could suddenly read books on a digital device without constantly changing batteries. This invention, the eBook, was followed by a digital publishing boom, allowing readers to instantly buy and carry books anywhere, on any device.

In this post, we’ll dive into some of the most popular ebook formats and reveal the reasons why (almost) every author should consider joining the digital publishing revolution.

The two most common ebook formats

Just as PCs compete against Macs and iPhones battle it out against Android devices, there are two major competing ebook formats. But don’t worry: if you’re looking to publish an ebook, you only need to worry about one of them.

EPUB: The gold standard

By far the most common ebook format, “EPUB” is pretty much synonymous with “ebook” these days. Most of the e-reader devices on the market use this as their default file type, so whether you’re buying a book from Google or borrowing one from Overdrive, most distributors will be dropping EPUB files onto your device.

Supported devices

Some of the most popular e-readers that natively use the EPUB format include:

  • Kobo Clara HD ($119.99)
  • Kobo Forma ($249.99)
  • NOOK GlowLight Plus ($199.99)

AZN: Amazon’s own format

ebooks | Various devices for reading ebooks
Lonely Planet Scotland's Highland and Islands on Kindle's Apps and e-reader

The one retailer that doesn’t sell EPUBs is Amazon. Instead, they use their own proprietary ebook format called the AZN, which is an evolution of their earlier MOBI format. It largely differs from the EPUB as it also features Digital Rights Management technology (DRM) that makes it harder to share and pirate.

There is no need to start panicking about memorizing all of these acronyms, though: these days, Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon’s author platform) accepts EPUB files, which it will automatically convert into AZNs for you. For authors, this means that EPUBs are often the only format they’ll ever need to worry about.

Supported devices

This file type is used by all ebook readers in the Amazon ecosystem, including:

  • Kindle Paperwhite 8GB ($149.99)
  • Kindle Oasis 8GB ($249.99)
  • Kindle Reader App (free to download to phones and tablets)

Now that you're familiar with the nature of ebooks, let's get to the juicy stuff.

Why (almost) every author needs to publish ebooks

So, why is publishing an ebook such a no-brainer for most authors?

Firstly, we now live in a digital world: in 2007, the first Kindle changed the way millions of readers bought and read books, and ebooks are only going to continue to grow in popularity in the future. 

Secondly, it will likely make life easier for you as an indie author! Ebooks allow indie authors to reach a wide audience and make a living as writers. In fact, for most authors publishing today, it would be unthinkable to have a print-only distribution plan. Let's take a closer look at the benefits of publishing ebooks for authors everywhere.

They're great for accessibility

A great thing about ebooks is how customizable they are: you can adjust everything from font and font size to the background color. Readers with visual impairment issues can now access almost any book and make it 'large print'.

ebooks | Kindle device with varying font sizes
With reflowable text, readers can adjust the book to their needs.

The technology that makes it possible for ebooks to fit every device and meet every reader's need called "reflowable text" — which means that there’s no fixed font size and position. To help his clients better understand this concept, book designer Alan Barnett describes ebooks as "one long, scrolling text chain that gets split at the bottom of the screen (not the page)."

They’re cheap to make and easy to sell

Ebooks don’t take paper, ink, and glue to create. They don’t need to be stored in a warehouse and shipped across the country in a semi-truck. As a result, the overhead costs are almost negligible, resulting in a lower price point for readers and a much larger chunk of royalties for authors

You can instantly reach a massive audience

In the good ol’ days, it would’ve been a Herculean task to get an indie book stocked in bookshops across the country — and nearly impossible to sell worldwide. But with the digital distribution of ebooks, any writer can almost instantly reach readers across the globe without ever leaving their home.

Digital publishing isn't just for aspiring bestsellers! Many professionals leverage the low cost and flexibility of ebooks to broaden their network. Find out more in this post on writing an ebook for your business.

You can quickly format them yourself, for free

Unless you’ve written one of those design-heavy books that require a fixed-layout format, ebooks are pretty easy to format by yourself. Using a free app like Reedsy’s Book Editor, you can lay out your ebooks as you write them — meaning that as soon as you’ve polished off your last edits, you can instantly export an EPUB and upload it to digital retailers within minutes.

And… if you need an extra incentive to try the Reedsy Book Editor, it also flawlessly exports print-ready PDFs that you can use to churn out perfectly formatted paperbacks.

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What are the downsides of publishing ebooks?

To be honest, there aren’t a lot of reasons to avoid publishing ebooks altogether. Unless you're publishing a text that will require a lot of visual control over your title (such as an academic textbook or a photography book), you're a natural candidate for the ebook format.

ebook | an art book that is not suitable for ebook translation
A book like this would translate poorly to the ebook format.
(George Daniels: A Master Watchmaker & his Art. Designed by Adam Hay.)

Of course, authors who are publishing a book with advanced typography and layout needs may be better off sticking to print simply because the limitations of reflowable text would make the design of your book more complicated.

Then there’s the romance element: the idea of readers holding your book is certainly alluring. However, there are also cost-effective ways for any indie author to sell print versions, so any of your readers who enjoy cracking the spine on a fresh paperback can still relish that experience.

Give your book a professional look

Some of the most experienced book designers in the world are right here on Reedsy. Sign up and meet them today.

Learn how Reedsy can help you craft a beautiful book.

Now that you’ve seen how publishing has been transformed into a dream that any writer can achieve, you might be wondering how to get started yourself. We recommend checking out the other posts in our series on ebooks:

So go forth and spread the word! Show the world what you have to offer and get your stories into their hands through the wonderful, convenient, affordable medium of ebooks.