eBooks & eBook Readers – The Basics

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With the surge in popularity of eBooks and eReaders, it’s easier now than ever before to have nearly anything you could want to read at your fingertips in moments. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at what ebooks and ereaders are, how to read ebooks on devices beyond ereaders, and the many places to find and download ebooks.

What Is It?

Electronic books, or ebooks are precisely that – electronic versions of physical books. Rather than read them printed on paper, we read the content of these books on some kind of electronic device. In the US, many people read their ebooks on an ebook Reader, but other devices you can use include your computer, your mobile phone or smartphone, or a tablet device like the iPad or GalaxyTab. Note: This week, we’ll discuss just the ereaders and next week, we’ll look at reading ebooks on other devices.

eReaders are dedicated devices meant only for (or primarily for) reading ebooks on. The Amazon Kindle was the first and most common ereader for many years, but the Nook has become popular because you can also use it to surf the web. Other readers on the market include the Kobo, the Sony Reader, readers from Aluratek and PanDigital and many more.

There are two important differences between different brands of ereaders: the file formats they allow, and the way the screen works.

  • File Formats. There are three most-used formats for ebooks – EPUB, PDF and Amazon’s AZW (Kindle only). EPUB and PDF are what’s called an ‘open’ file format, and they can be viewed by most of the ebook readers out there. Amazon made the choice to create their own ebook file format, and those ebooks can only be read on Kindle devices and applications. You don’t need to know how the different formats work – you just need to know which formats your ereader can read, and which ones it can’t. That will let you find and download the correct format when you’re looking for your own ebooks.
  • Screen Type. There are two primary types of screens for ebook readers:
    eInk or ePaper screens were first used by the Kindle, and later by the original Nook and Sony eReader. An eInk screen looks just like a page of printed text, with a warm grey background and black ‘ink.’ You can change the font size somewhat, but the idea here is to recreate the experience of reading a printed book.
    Color LCD screens were first used by the Nook Color, and they allow the ereader to show color images and to surf the web. With these screens, it’s possible to view magazines, picture books and comic books on your ereader.

Features on ereaders vary from model to model, but nearly all of them will keep track of where you are in a book, let you move from book to book without losing your place, and allow you to download books onto the device for offline reading. Some ereaders will let you highlight text or save notes about what you’re reading, making them useful for students, scholars and voracious readers. The Nook color and other color ereaders will let you surf the web using a basic browser, turning an ereader into a simple tablet device (far less expensive than an iPad!). For an idea of all of the features available, look at the product pages for each of the readers mentioned above.

How Is It Useful?

Imagine being able to carry a small library’s worth of books with you wherever you go, available to read at a moment’s notice? You can decide at the very last minute whether you’d rather be reading the latest James Patterson or re-read that book of Carlos Casteneda’s poetry you love. Now picture being able to write in all of those books without harming them, and marking your place without the risk of losing your bookmark or ruining the corner of a page. Finally, think about all of this happening in a device that weighs less than your average paperback and that can close its cover and slip into a bag.

This is what it means to use an ereader to read ebooks. It is a different experience than reading a printed book, to be sure, and it is sometimes a better one. For traveling, especially, carrying and keeping track of a single ereader is lighter and easier than lugging around a dozen books. Just like iPods and other mp3 players changed the way we listen to music on the go, ebooks and ereaders are changing how we read.

Ereaders can also make it easier to read and finish books. One person who could never finish a book because he always seemed to lose them 50 pages from the end is reading more than a dozen books a year now, thanks to his Kindle. People who need larger text to read more easily now have many more options, because any book can become a large print edition on an ereader. Finally, while electronics are not environmentally friendly themselves, there is some good in not having millions of books printed only to end up recycled not too longer afterwards.

Try It Out

Since I’m not going to tell you to run out and get an ereader, let me suggest getting ahead on next week’s lesson (when we’ll talk about reading ebooks on devices other than ereaders) and take a look at Archive.org. Archive.org is a free online archive of texts, audio, video, websites and many other formats. Search through the texts archives and find something you’re interested in reading. Then, click on one of the options under View the Text – you can view it online, or download it to your computer to read whenever you’d like. PDF might be the easiest format to start with, since nearly every computer can read that format.

Help & Resources

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