|FAQ about Ebook Formats and Availability|
by Sylvia Engdahl
Unfortunately, the formats in which ebooks are produced is not standardized, although several that used to be common have virtually disappeared and conversion from one format to another is generally possible. The major ones are described in the box below.
- MOBI - the format used by Kindles, which can also be read with free apps on computers, smartphones, and many other devices. To download an app, go to Amazon. It's important to know that it's not necessary to have a Kindle to buy Kindle books, or to borrow them through Kindle Unlimited. Furthermore, it isn't necessary to buy all your ebooks from Amazon if you do own a Kindle, as mobi-format ebooks purchased elsewhere can be put on it.
- EPUB - the format used by ereaders other than Kindles and for borrowing ebooks from public libraries. This format is offered by all ebook sellers except Amazon, although some of them also offer additional formats. The free download Adobe Digital Editions, as well as various retailers' proprietary software, provides the capability to read ebooks in epub format on computers, Android devices, etc. and to transfer ebooks from one device to another.
- PDF - a format that can be read with Web browers, the standard Adobe Reader, or preferably, Adobe Digital Editions. Books in this format can be imported to Kindles and some other devices. It is less desirable than the other formats since pagination is fixed rather than flexible and on a small device usually won't fit without horizontal scrolling, but on the other hand, in many cases it shows the pages of a book exactly as they appear in its printed edition. (This is not true of PDFs automatically produced from manuscripts such as those offered by Smashwords. It applies only to scanned books and to those such as mine where the actual files from which the paper edition was printed are offered in PDF form; these can be obtained at Google Play.)
- LRF - a format for Sony dedicated ebook readers. Sony has phased out this format in favor of epub.
- PDB - a discontinued format for Palm PDAs, Nooks, iPhones and some others that now use epub.
What is DRM?
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. DRM-protected ebooks, which include most if not all issued by major traditional publishers and some others, are encrypted so that they cannot be copied or read on any device except the one for which they were purchased--although most retailers now allow them to be read on a limited number of other devices. This is believed to prevent, or at least reduce, piracy. Whether it actually does or not is another matter; it is easy enough for a person with computer skills to break the encryption and there are plenty of pirate sites on the Web. Many people, of whom I am one, believe that all DRM does is make life hard for honest users while having little if any effect on dishonest ones. (Note that it is illegal to copy or convert copyrighted ebooks even if they are not encrypted, except for your personal use on different devices.)
Now that there are free apps to read legal copies on multiple devices, DRM is less of a problem than it used to be. Nevertheless, many readers oppose it as a matter of principle--as do many writers--and refuse to buy DRMed books. Most indie ebooks (books self-published by their authors) are DRM-free. Initially Amazon did not allow this, and it will not let authors change the status of books published before the option became available; so the Kindle editions of my five earliest indie ebook editions have DRM. However, all these books are also available in DRM-free omnibus editions.
What is Calibre?
Calibre is a free software application that converts ebook files to different formats, and also allows ebook collections containing variously-formatted files to be organized and read from a single library. It is used to produce ebooks by authors, or on behalf of authors, and can also be used by readers to convert ebooks they have legitimately acquired from one format to another. It is legal to make converted files for your own personal use, but not, of course, to give copies to other people.
Why are some ebooks available only at Amazon?
In some cases, for one reason or another authors have chosen to make their ebooks available only at specific sites. That's not usually the case when Amazon is the only place a book can be obtained, however. Amazon's policy is that if a book is enrolled in a program called KDP Select, which offers special promotion capabilities plus inclusion in the subscription service Kindle Unlimited, it cannot be for sale, or given away free, anywhere except at Amazon.com, not even the author's own website. (This applies only to digital editions; paper editions can still be sold elsewhere.) So for awhile I withdrew the ebooks of my Flame series -- but not my other books -- from all the other retailers and I couldn't sell or give away copies myself. It turned out that not enough people were borrowing them through Kindle Unlmited to justify the restriction, so now they're back at all retailers.
I'm not happy about this policy. I don't like the idea of any retailer having the sole right to sell a book. In the past all in-print books could be ordered wherever books were sold, whether or not stocked; and I think that turning books into mere products with sales restrictions will weaken the growing acceptance of ebooks as "real" books, that is, as works of literature. Moreover, having books in only one retailer's catalog greatly reduces an author's chance of becoming known--even if people browsing other stores are willing to buy certain books of that author at Amazon, they have no way to know that they exist. If they see some books listed, they naturally assume the author has written no others. Thus I always said that I would never agree to give Amazon exclusive rights, despite the promotion benefits that were offered; and I regret having relented even temporarily.
Why is there no Kindle or epub edition of Enchantress from the Stars?
Because the publisher still owns the rights to it, so I can't issue one. To my geat regret during the past decade, they failed to do so. (There is was once a pdf ebook edition that could be purchased at Kobo, but it seems to have disappeared.) Now, however, they have made definite plans for issuing an ebook edition in 2018.
All my other books, published under my personal Ad Stellae Books imprint, can be purchased in Kindle format at Amazon.com and many international Amazon sites. All except the Flame series and my nonfiction book The Planet-Girded Suns can be otained in epub format at Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, and a number of others, including Overdrive, which provides books to public libraries (tell your librarian!) They can be obtained in pdf format, with pages exactly like the paperback editions (which were printed from the same files) at GooglePlay. And they are available in all three formats at Smashwords.com. Purchase links to all these retailers for each book are on the description pages for the books, which you can find by clicking on the covers on my BOOKS page.