Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 1: Introduction

| How-To

This Christmas, dedicated eReaders and tablets than can read eBooks are more popular than ever. To help you navigate through all the fabulous products but also the challenging technical issues, TMO is launching a multi-part eReader/eBook series of articles to help you navigate the technology, services and devices. This is part 1, an introduction and roadmap to the future articles.

The Lay of the Land

Like millions of others, you may already have an iPad or a Kindle or some other kind of eBook reader. Or, perhaps this year, you're making your first foray into tablets or eBook readers. Or, perhaps, you're thinking about giving one as a gift. In any case, there is a lot to know about reading electronic books, especially nowadays when companies are trying to lock you into their own product ecosystem. Hopefully, this multi-part guide will help you get it all sorted out.

First, we need to define some terms. While these terms may not be universally defined as I have done, the definitions will serve to clarify the discussion going forward.

  • eBook - a version of a book in electronic format. That specific format may vary depending on the seller, for example, EPUB, MOBI or PDF. We'll discuss those formats as we go along.
  • eReader - a small electronic device, typically paperback size or a little larger, dedicated to reading eBooks. While it may have Wi-Fi for downloading, it usually lacks a rich selection of apps, versatility, full featured web browsers, email etc. The original Amazon Kindles and the new Kindle Paperwhite are eReaders. They're not generally suitable for magazines due to the small screen size.
  • Pure tablet - a full featured slate-like device, typically 7 to 10-inch display, typically without a bundled keyboard, running a major OS that can run thousands of apps, including special kinds of apps that can read eBooks. The Apple iPad is a tablet. It can run apps like the Kindle reader and iBooks apps that allow you to read books, magazines and newspapers.
  • Consumer tablet - Amazon has released a series of tablets that run a major OS, Android, but that OS is shielded from the user. Instead, an overlaying user interface (UI) presents to the user managed options for buying content and products. There are ads and recommendations. The device, while it has a web browser and email, may limit what other apps you can install and run. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD series is a consumer tablet.
  • eBook reader app - A software application that, generally, manages an eBook library on a device and presents an eBook for reading.


Companies that offer a rich selection of electronic content, like Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Google have found it profitable to offer their own tablets and/or eReaders as a dedicated gateway into their offerings. Keeping you in their ecosystem, continuously spending, is the goal.

EBooks that you buy from one of those companies are generally not transferable to a different eReader, tablet or PC/Mac thanks to DRM. (There are some exceptions.) In fact, you don't even own the books you paid for. You're merely paying for the right to read the book on your device. The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing a ruling that you don't have the traditional right of first sale, a doctrine which has held that you can sell what you previously bought. I bring this up because it does bear on your decisions about building an eBook library.

One of the advantages of buying a full-featured, capable tablet like the iPad is that you can run multiple apps from multiple ecosystems. For example, you may have Apple's iBooks app and buy some books from Apple. You may also have Amazon's Kindle reader and buy books from Amazon. Barnes & Noble has an iPad app for their offerings as well. Again, depending on your preference, you may want to dabble in multiple ecosystems with a pure tablet or stick with just one vendor with perhaps an eReader or consumer tablet.

However, the science fiction dream that you can collect and own a vast library of digital books, assured of migration into the future and perhaps handed down to your children, replacing a wall of paper books, is just that. A pipe dream, at least for now. You may have an eBook on your tablet for a few years, but eventually, it will evaporate. At least that's how it's looking in 2012.

Buying Devices & Managing Your Collection

There is a lot to cover as we move forward. In fure installments, we'll look at various apps for reading books and magazines on your Mac and iPads, the ins and outs of moving content around, insofar as possible, backing them up, how to buy an eReader or tablet, the various eBook file formats, reviews of products, borrowing eBooks form libraries, and some of the nuances of working within a given ecosystem, like Google's Play or Amazon's Kindle cloud.

I invite you to suggest, in the comments, additional topics of interest. Meanwhile, a lot of material has already been published here at TMO that you may want to reference. Perhaps a good legacy article to check is: "TMO’s Guide to Writing, Publishing & E-books" which collects, in one place, most of the previous articles I've posted.

I think this is going to be a lot of fun, and I can't wait to get started.

Articles in This Series


November 28: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 1: Introduction"

November 29: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 2: eBook Types."

December 4: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 3: Apple's iPad."

December 12: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 4: B&N Nook"

December 18: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 5: Google Nexus 10"

December 21: "Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 6: Amazon Kindle Fire HD"


Book icon via Bookle.

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Paul Robinson

Great idea for a series!

I’d be particularly interested in a how-to column that would clearly, and simply, explain how to *legally* strip the DRM off of, say, a Nook book, so that it could be read on another, preferred eReader app, such as Stanza.

This is partly for selfish reasons—I received a gift card from Barnes & Noble and will likely buy a bunch of ebooks, but I really dislike the GUI, glitches, and limits of the Nook app and so much prefer what Stanza offers.

But it’s also because if I am going to build an ebook library, I want to make sure that I can always have it, especially the books I’ve paid for.


I agree, great topic for a series!  However, my take on it is that the proliferation of ebook “ecosystems” is a nuisance for users and threatens to limit uptake of the technology.  Moreover, as you mention, archival and sharing your library are major limitations of the current technology. 

I currently use iBooks and Kindle on my iPad for most of my ebook purchases.  However, it is very frustrating that I can’t have a single collection.  If I want to find a book that I read a while ago, I have to remember which company I bought it from.  If I can’t remember I have to search through both libraries.  Neither app works well with PDFs.  For that (and other reasons) I use GoodReader.  It is a really versatile app that can open PDFs as well as many other file formats such as .docx and .pptx. 

I would like to see you expand the series to include ezines.  The situation for ezines is even worse.  First, there is Newstand, which works for many of my subscriptions.  But if I want to read MacWorld I need to use Zinio, which I absolutely hate.  MacLife uses a different provider which is so bad I just read the print edition. 

It seems to me that this whole topic of electronic books, magazines, and newspapers is an opportunity for Apple to disrupt as they did with music.  There should be a single file format as there is for documents (PDF).  There should not be DRM.  You pay for it, you own it.  You can sell it or give it to whomever you choose. Of course, the publishing industry will fight this but its inevitable.  Unfortunately, Apple has chosen the path to develop its own proprietary format in an attempt to build vertical integration (and revenue).  In fact, I think they would get better adoption and revenue if they took the high road and focused on convenience for users.


I agree, this is an outstanding topic to choose. I applaud TMO for covering a topic which is partly outside of your usual realm, but very important and very interesting. I am looking forward to the future articles.  I’m sure I will be linking to the articles from my blog http://eReaderJoy.com.


I lean toward classic titles which are ePub with no DRM. If I am going to read something current I buy it as a physical book that I can put on my bookshelf or pass on. The eBook ecosystem is too fractured in format to invest in heavily. I really don’t see this changing anytime soon as the players are interested in protecting their income.

I probably will choose one company and just stick with it.


Ideally I’d prefer non-DRM books, of course. But the Cablibre hack I found did not work on my MacPro.

But, while I can see that an ebook may not survive for centuries, I think decades are very likely. Amazon plans to stay in business, and I think they will. Imagine the PR problems if people’s old Kindle books did not work with the newest Kindle. At least those stored with Amazon could be upgraded in the unlikely case they’d need to, though I don’t see why any new reader would not be able to read all the books they have published, it’s not like it’s very complex app files, it’s just ebooks.

Sailaway Books

I echo those above in applauding you for taking on this topic.

And I completely agree with what Gene said above regarding:

• the nuisance of having to access/remember different libraries (iBook, Kindle)
* the unsatisfactory situation with e-zines
• There should not be DRM!

Looking forward to reading more of your posts.


You have not mentioned SONY READER in either part 1 or part 2 of your “Everything…” series…

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