Everything About eBooks & eReaders, Pt 1: Introduction

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.