3 Things You Might Not Realize About E-books: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2015-10-14

It's safe to say that e-books are here to stay, and it's becoming clear that, contrary to warnings we all heard a few years ago, they aren't bringing on the "death of print books." Quite the contrary, actually. The New York Times recently published an article about how e-book sales are actually decliningseems like the "digital apocalypse" won't be arriving after all. As well, e-book technology has been advancing steadily, allowing for some pretty amazing new ways to read and consume content.

However, there's always a flip side, and e-book technology has some risks that you might not expect. I’ll share with you some good, bad, and ugly facts about e-books that you might not have expected (though because I like ending on a good note, we’ll start with the bad and the ugly first).

The Bad

In past blogs, I’ve mentioned a number of different e-book formats: ePUB, mobi, and PDF are the main ones that come to mind. But in actuality, there are many more formats that e-books can take the form of: iBooks (Apple’s proprietary format), plain text, RTF, DOC, HTML, PostScript, BBeB (an older format formerly used by Sony), and CBR/CBZ (file formats for creating e-comic books), to name a few.

Some of these formats are protected by digital copyright measures, and some are not. These restrictions that can be placed on certain formats mean that you may be able to read your e-book on one device, but not on another, which can be frustrating, especially if you have multiple devices (for instance, a smartphone, an e-reader, and a tablet) as many people do today. Some formats can only be read on one device, such as iBooks, which can only be read on an Apple device.


If you’re really determined, there are ways to convert certain file formats into other formats that are compatible with your chosen e-reader (often using apps or file converters), but this can be a confusing process if you’re unsure of what you’re doing.

The Ugly

You may remember a controversy that arose a few years ago involving Amazon and Kindle users. The gist of the story is that two George Orwell e-book titles (1984 and Animal Farm) were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have the rights to sell these books. To solve the problem, Amazon opted to remotely delete these digital editions from the Kindle devices of the customers who had unwittingly purchased them. Customers were refunded, but Amazon faced a huge backlash over their decision, as many users had no idea that Amazon had the capability, or even the right, to go into their devices and delete books they had purchased.

Customers likened the deletion to Amazon breaking into their houses, taking a book off the bookshelf, and leaving a few dollars behind. A lawsuit was even brought against Amazon by a student who had been using his copy of 1984 to make annotations and notes for a summer school class. When Amazon deleted his copy, he lost all his work.

Even Amazon’s own terms of service agreement doesn’t seem to give them the right to delete purchased material from Kindles, as it gives customers the right to keep a “permanent copy of the applicable digital content.” Other retailers, such as Kobo, allow the user to download the e-book to their own computer or device, giving them more freedom. Once you download that e-book, it’s yours, and this might be a more preferable solution to the problem. This controversy highlighted concerns that, at least in Amazon’s case, readers who purchase e-books may not have as many rights as they think they do. Do they own that content, or are they just paying to rent it for a while?

The Good

While these concerns about user rights aren’t going to just go away, it’s worth it to remember the amazing things we’re now able to accomplish with e-book technology. We can fit whole libraries onto one device or a USB stick and send them to places where books are harder to come by. We can help expand the vocabulary of children by including dictionary capabilities within the e-book itself. We can add animation to illustrations, on the cover or otherwise. And in a most interesting new development, we can combine attributes of both print books and screen technology to create something never seen before.


E-books are here to stay, and when finally finish working out all the kinks, it should be an amazing thing to see all the ways we can continue to harness this technology to create even more amazing new ways to read.