What are ebooks?

(Please note that the following is based solely on my observations and opinions. Plus, we’re talking about technology here, so the info is out of date the minute I stop typing it. It’s meant as a helpful guide to those who are new to the idea of ebooks, nothing more. If you have any suggestions or corrections, please let me know.)

ebooks are just another type of book that you can add to the list – hardback, paperback, audio. They need to be downloaded and then can be read on your computer, a hand held ebook reader made specifically for that purpose, or a handheld device such as iphone, PDA or smartphone.

Just like any other version of a book, ebooks are copyright protected. It is illegal to re-distribute an ebook that you have purchased by printing it out and giving a copy to someone else, by emailing it to someone else, or by saving it to a flashdrive and giving it to someone else. This may sound unfair at first, since you can freely loan, give or sell your paperback copy of a book to anyone, but the difference is that if you loan your paperback to your best friend, only she is reading it, you no longer have a copy. If you email your best friend a copy of an ebook, it is still on your computer where you can read it, and she can keep a copy on her computer while emailing further copies along. Illegal and unfair to the publisher and author of the ebook. Some people think that the inability to share or re-sell ebooks makes them not worth their money. That is fine, I completely respect a readers decision not to purchase an ebook for that reason. It is not fine, however, to purchase the book and then disregard the law by making illegal copies.

Plusses
Ebooks Paper books
They take up very little room on your computer which means you can keep every book for a very long time. I am a re-reader, I have a terrible memory so I can pick up a book a year later and enjoy it all over again, but only if I haven’t already donated it to the library to make room for my later purchases. Not a problem with ebooks. They add up quickly in your house and are often given away or even thrown away.
They can be loaded onto a handheld device allowing you to keep dozens (if not more!) in your purse at all times. Fifteen minute wait at the doctor’s office? No problem, open your device and you’re right where you last left off in your book. I usually maxed out at one paperback I was willing to carry in my purse, if that.
They are so much easier to curl up with on your couch, bed or even in the bath (It’s been suggested you can put your reader in a plastic baggie to make them waterproof, which sounds like a great idea). I read on my PDA which I can easily hold with one hand and turn the pages with my thumb. Also, many ebook readers and palm devices have a backlit screen meaning you can use the device in the dark without disturbing others. Very handy. Can get tiring to hold after a while. If you’re a marathon reader like me and can spend literally hours reading, it’s amazing how often you have to change positions to be comfortable while reading a paperback. Don’t even get me started on hardbacks.
Pretty covers that only you can see – ok, this is kind of a silly plus, but let’s face it, a lot of us are embarrassed to be seen reading our favorite books in public because of the covers. Not a problem with ebooks. There’s still a sexy cover, it’s usually the first page you see when opening an ebook, but nobody sees it but you. Romance, erotica, biographies of icky politicians, whatever it might be that embarrasses you, it’s been known to keep a book in the house, or worse, on the shelf at the bookstore or library.
epublishers – They’ve made a name for themselves by being willing to take chances on new authors and genres that the NY pubs won’t try until they’ve proven successful. Erotica romance especially has grown in leaps and bounds since epublishers have hit the scene. Also, because of the format, they’re able to make and sell smaller word count books (at smaller prices). NY publishers can’t print a quick 15K word story and sell it for $2.99 but epublishers can. A great way to check out a new author or try a new genre.
What could be easier than sitting down after dinner and deciding you need a new book to read, then going online, browsing through books defined by themes or genres and instantly downloading them to your computer? While it’s true that browsing through a good bookstore is a great way to spend an hour (or two!), let’s face it, it’s limiting – you can’t go in your pajamas and there are people there (gasp!).
Minuses
Idiotic providers of technology – unfortunately there are many formats of ebooks and like with all new technologies every creator is determined to make their own. Much worse than the VHS/BetaMax issue, there are many formats of ebooks. Not all formats can be read on all ebook readers, PDA’s, etc. It’s entirely possible that you could buy 100 ebooks in a format that becomes obsolete. Printed books are printed books. I am, however, annoyed that I own the first four Harry Potter books on cassette tape and no longer have a way to listen to them in the car. Still, the question remains, if you bought those same 100 books, would they really still be in your house?
diotic providers of technology II – DRM. I understand the publisher’s attempts to protect the materials from being illegally copied, however I do not understand why they couldn’t come up with a better solution than one that had already failed the music industry. If you want to know more about this issue, I’d be happy to point you to discussions on the matter, but for these purposes, suffice it to say that if you purchase an ebook it is likely to be DRM protected. Basically, as I understand it (and I am by no means an expert) when you buy the book you have to tie it to your devices and you are limited to the number of devices and transfers you can make. I do own a fair number of ebooks with this protection and have never had a problem, but the possibility exists that the company who sold it to me will shut down their server and I will no longer be able to access my ebook. Again, with a printed book, once it’s yours you can do pretty much anything you want with it, other than photo copy it.
Sharing – It’s true that I occasionally share books with friends and family which cannot be done with ebooks. Unlike the other minuses, this is one you really have to consider when buying an ebook. The other’s are mostly annoyances but buying an ebook with the intent to distribute (share) is a big, fat NO. I don’t think I can stress that enough, it’s stealing, and it’s wrong.

That’s about all I can think of at the moment, but the point is this – there are plusses and minuses and you have to weigh them. If ebooks come too far on the minuses side, pass. I buy a lot of ebooks, but I still buy plenty of print books. It certainly doesn’t have to be an either/or thing. Anytime I see an article about the new technology and will it see the end of printed books, I want to throw something. It’s not like CD’s that crowded out cassette tapes, it’s more like hardbacks versus paperbacks. I never, ever buy hardbacks. I know people who never, ever buy paperbacks. We all have our preferences, ebooks are just a new choice when making those decisions. But if you haven’t tried one, you can’t really know.

Readers and Formats

There are so many choices here, I’m not sure I can do them justice, so Instead I’ll point you to some people who already did. And tell you what my personal experiences are.

What I do/use:

There are a number of devices created solely to read ebooks, called ebook readers. The Amazon Kindle is probably the most well known one, but there’s also the Sony Ereader, the EbookWise, and others. I occasionally read them on my laptop, but mostly I used to read them on my PDA using Mobipocket. I loved my PDA (which was also a cellphone) but did not love Nokia or its support of the product, so I moved to the iphone, which was fairly recently, so I’m still learning. The iphone still has not perfected the ebook read, but it’s getting there. You have to get an app for it. I’ve tried Bookshelf (the only iphone app I’ve paid money for), ereader and Stanza. I like Bookshelf the best.

My publisher’s website has an excellent resource for choosing your ebook formats here.

Dear Author, a wonderful review site that is also a fantastic resource for readers of romance (and more) produced this holiday ebook reader buying guide – Part 1 and Part 2.

This is a guide to the available iphone ebook reader apps, but do remember, the iphone and it’s apps are updating and advancing constantly.