E-books have evolved in their short history to a point where most online surfers have heard of them and understand the different formats. The key to e-books is that they are electronic versions of books and do not require printed versions, but can be available in hard copy form if the publisher chooses. Many self-published writers are finding e-books to be a simple way to express their ideas without the costs and barriers involved with traditional publishing. Amazon has been a leader in the industry with its Kindle reader while Apple has challenged the platform with its iPad, which downloads e-books from the iBookstore.
The main reason for making an e-book can be summed up by efficiency. An e-book doesn’t get lost like a physical book and doesn’t have the problems of torn pages or a worn cover. From a cost perspective, there is no longer any reason to spend a fortune on cutting down a forest to create thousands of copies of a book without knowing if it will sell. In the old world, books might be out of stock if they did sell, requiring new pressings, whereas in the new world e-books are never out of stock. The emerging model for printing hard copy versions now is based on orders as they come in, such as at Amazon.
Another efficient quality of e-books is they can be updated more easily. Traditional books were printed in a series of pressings, based on demand. But if demand diminished a book might go out of print and become outdated. The original pressing might also have misinformation or typos. E-books, however, allow the writer to always have an updated version ready for online distribution, as errors can be corrected immediately, instead of waiting for the printing process to take months.
Consumers enjoy the advantages of e-books over traditional books thanks to lower pricing. Since it costs less money to make and market an e-book than a printed book, the price drops for consumers. Number of pages can still affect the price, but e-books make it possible to sell more items of the same thing. For example, instead of buying an entire book, some people might just want to purchase one chapter at a reduced price. Other advantages of e-books are they can be converted to different languages and they can be used with text-to-speech software to create audio books for people with disabilities.
Today’s e-books are designed for smaller screens than in the past. Dedicated e-book readers have become an extra electronic device people purchase specifically just for reading e-books and online newspapers. The Amazon Kindle has been one of the most popular e-book readers, along with the Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo and Sony Readers. Tablet computers such the iPad make useful e-book readers due to their portability and controls that make reading easier. These devices can download and store e-books from online stores such as Amazon, Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony Reader Store and the public library-based OverDrive. Mobile devices such as iPhones and Androids can also read e-books.
Although the e-book market does not have industry formatting standards, the most popular format has been the Adobe PDF files. Web developers tried to construct a system known as Open eBook, a zip file based on XHTML and CSS, that breaks e-books down into components. But the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) has moved closer toward the EPUB format as a standard, allowing the file to be converted to other formats. EPUB can embed metadata, resize text and supports Digital Rights Management.
The popularity of e-books has skyrocketed in the second decade of the 21st century. In May 2011 Amazon reported that its sales of e-books had surpassed sales of hard copy books. A Pew Internet Project survey in 2012 showed that 21 percent of American adults had read an e-book within the past year. It was also found that e-book readership favors people under age 50. A large majority of e-book readers read printed books as well. Nearly half of the respondents said they preferred e-books over printed books.
In 2012 Apple launched iBook Author, which is a software program that allows authors to create e-books in the PDF format on an iPad and directly make products available in the iBooks store and for sharing. Amazon has a platform called CreateSpace for authors to create e-books, which must conform to the site’s policies. Lulu also provides the tools for authors to create and market their own self-published e-books.
E-books have proven to be profitable, even for traditional publishers such as Random House. Fifty Shades of Grey by novelist E.L. James was one of the company’s big sellers in 2012. Half of the 30 million copies sold were e-books. The company reported that e-book sales made up 27 percent of the total book sales, which was a 7 percent increase from a year earlier.
Free e-books can be found at Amazon by looking at their Top 100 Free list. Many times a publisher will give away a sample of a book as an e-book that promotes the printed paperback or hard copy for sale. Sometimes e-books are just free to expose a new author. Apple also offers free e-books at the iBooks store. Other websites that offer free e-books are ManyBooks.net, Free-ebooks.net and Open Culture. You can also search for free e-books using the PDFgeni.com search engine.
The future of e-Books may merge more with multimedia and text to speech capabilities. It remains important that e-books are a clickable medium. They can be linked to websites as well as interlinked so that they provide easy navigation to source material. The most advanced e-books link to instant videos that complement the text. E-books are very useful for people involved with other communication besides writing.
Musicians, painters and movie makers can use e-books to showcase and promote their other media. Ultimately, e-books are quick learning tools that provide instant access to deeper content. If the e-book can speed up someone’s search for knowledge to a matter of minutes or even seconds, it has a powerful utility for the reader. Expect e-books of the future to help people cut through technical jargon and learn new systems quickly with visuals and creative ways to index and categorize knowledge.