Bits from the Digital Editor: A Primer for eBook Terminology

by Jessica Mifsud

Published at 2013-04-15


Welcome to the first post in our series on eBooks: Bits from the Digital Editor. This series is geared towards helping you, the confused reader, become a little more technologically savvy, and understand just what the big deal is with all those eBooks and eReaders you’ve been hearing about.


In this series, we’ll look at issues that are affecting publishers, readers, and authors alike. For our first lesson together, we’ve put together this easy-to-understand primer on eBooks and ePub terminology in order to get everyone speaking the same language in the blog posts to come.

Here are some important terms to know:


* ePub: Short for “electronic publication,” but may alternatively be spelled as any one of the following: EPUB, ePUB, EPub, or epub. (Don’t worry, they all mean the same thing.) ePub files are a big deal mainly because in addition to being easy to create and use, they have reflowable text. What that means is that you can read an ePub file on a device of any size, be it an Android or an iPad, and the text of the ePub file will reflow to match your screen size. We can liken the content of an ePub file to the water in a jug: it will fit any glass you pour it into.


* Mobi: Acts like an ePub file in respect to its abilities. But because this format is owned by Amazon, it is only usable on Kindle devices, and cannot be edited as easily as an ePub file can. In analogous terms, this type of file is a jug of water that has “AMAZON.COM” written on the side of it, and is on a table in front of a large fellow who looks like he’d be happy to menace you if you got up to any funny business with that jug.


* PDF: Stands for “portable document format.” It’s different from an ePub file because its content does not reflow, only resizes (i.e., it can only get bigger or smaller, but more often than not you will always be viewing an entire page of the document). Pages of a PDF are more like pictures of a jug of water. You can see them well enough, but you can’t interact with them to pour yourself a drink.


* eReaders: The device you use to read your eBook, or in our ongoing analogy: the glass that holds the water. eReaders come in many different sizes and shapes, and range from being a device that specializes in reading books, to an application on your computer or phone that might perform the same function. As mentioned, ePub files can be read by most eReaders, with the exception of the Kindle series, which are produced by Amazon and have their own types of files.


* eBook Conversion: Taking the text of a manuscript, laying it out in a format that an eReader can process, and adding in the other ear-marks of the digital age, like metadata, links to external websites, cover pages, images, etc. In our ongoing water jug analogy, this is the process of adding the ice cubes and lemon slices to the water to make it more refreshing and pleasant to drink. Conversion is one of the services TEC is now offering, and about which more information can be found here.


* DRM: Which stands for “digital rights management” is the lid on the jug of water which controls who gets to drink the water and who has to pay for it. If you buy a file from Kobo, for example, that company will put its own lid on the jug so that it’s hard for you to pour a glass of water for your friends, so to speak. (Translation: If you send an ePub file you bought from Kobo to friends, they probably won’t be able to open it because they’re not you.) Many ePub files – and any files created by TEC – don’t have any DRM files attached to them (and therefore, no lids). In fact, if you’re an independent publisher, DRM will only be slapped on your file if you choose to have it distributed by a third party like Amazon, Kobo, or Overdrive (the program used to borrow eBooks in many libraries). Otherwise, files are DRM free, and can be read by anyone, anywhere.


But What Does It Mean?

Now that we’re both speaking the same language, future discussions in the Bits from the Digital Editor  series – such as DRM and what it means for you; why you can’t borrow a copy of your favourite book at the local library; eBooks as a completely separate genre from print books; and the trials and tribulations involved in creating an eBook from the ground up – should make a lot more sense to those who are still new to the eBook scene.  Until next time!