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The Wikipedia (12:06, 7 July 2006 (MEST)) entry provides the following definitions: “An e-book (also: eBook, ebook) is an electronic (or digital) version of a book. The term is used ambiguously both to refer to either an individual work in a digital format, or a hardware device used to read books in digital format. Some users deprecate the second meaning in favor of the more precise "e-book device"” ... “The term e-text is often used synonymously with the term e-book, and is also used for the more limited case of data in ASCII text format excluding books in proprietary file formats.”

According to Marie Lebert (University of Toronto) : "The electronic book (ebook) was born in 1971, with the first steps of Project Gutenberg, a digital library for books from public domain". Her book ("A Short History of eBooks") is available for free in English and French.

Warning: Some information here may not be accurate. I am not an e-book expert, but wanted to "own" some overview information. Go and visit Mobileread for good details. For folks in education, the ePub standard, supporting software and devices are currently probably the most interesting things to look at. - Daniel K. Schneider 17:24, 23 April 2009 (UTC).

See also:


Ardito (2000) describes how Andries Van Dam, a professor of technology at Brown University in the USA, coined the phrase "electronic book" while working on the first hypertext system during 1967 and 1968 on an IBM 360 mainframe, and that in 1968, Alan Kay conceptualised an e-book called Dynabook, a portable, interactive personal computer with a flat panel display and wireless communication. Though e-books are not new, their uptake has been slow, especially when compared to other e-formats such as e-journals and e-newspapers. One reason for this is because e-books have been available in many formats and these formats are often incompatible and non-interoperable.

(Anurada & Usha, 2006:48)


DSchneider distinguishes the following major forms

  • e-books that only can be read on specialized devices.
  • e-books that have been designed for reading on standard computers (including mobile devices). Typical formats are HTML or PDF (but with adapted pagination and line length). Such books also include navigation features such clickable cross-links, indexes, etc.
  • e-books designed for both standard computers, ebook readers and tablets. A typical format would be E-Pub.
  • e-books in plain text format. This is how the Gutenberg project started. This format is also frequent for short "how to install something" manuals.
  • digital books that are meant to be printed on paper. Typically these are PDF files with a page size that doesn't fit on our current low-resolution screens (even my 1200x1900 monitors). Sometimes, paper books or articles are scanned and redistributed as huge PDF files (e.g. teachers do that quite a lot).
  • on demand books is an orthogonal category. These are books that are assembled on the fly by users or information providers from various sources, e.g. wiki pages or DITA topics.

Standards, software and hardware


Firstly, one has to distinguish between the formats used to write the book (source) and the delivery formats.

Encoding formats for initial authoring:

  1. Any sort of word processor format, in particular MS RTF/doc or more recent standardized formats such as Open document format or the MS equivalent that also aims to become a standard. Sometimes, such texts are delivered through the web "as is", sometimes HTML/PDF or other formats are produced.
  2. Any sort of XML/SGML based encoding, edited with either a programmer's editor or a Wysiwyg tool.
  3. TEX/Latex, popular in science.

Formats that are both used for authoring the source and reading

  1. HTML
  2. Several XML languages (together with some rendering (e.g. style-sheet) technology)
  3. CHI (MS Compressed HTML Help) that allows to distribute a set of HTML files, graphics and meta-data as a single zip file
  4. IMS Content Packaging, maybe the most popular format for e-learning texts to be read through an LMS.
  5. Wikis (see: Wikipedia:WikiReader)

There are several delivery formats, most of them proprietary e.g.

  1. ePub, formerly "Open ebook", an e-book standard. See the ePub entry.
  2. AZW an eBook format used exclusively on the Amazon Kindle, a variant of MOBI.
  3. (MOBI/PRC)
    • MOBI (Mobileread.com)
    • The .prc extension (home page) is needed for PDAs. *.mobi is the same as *.prc
  4. FB2
    • By the FictionBook project
    • FB2 (at mobileread.com)
  5. Adobe reader in PDF format (Ebookreader). This is the most popular format for texts to be printed.
  6. Hiebook reader in HI format (home page);
  7. Microsoft reader in LIT format (home page);
  8. Netwton eBook in PKG format.
  9. Open electronic book package format
  10. Palm reader in PDB format (see home page)
  11. Image formats such as JPG, TIFF, GIF, PNG (typically used for either scanned texts or visually rich formats).
  12. Typical web formats, such as HTML, PDF etc.
  13. Audio formats, such as AA and AAX (AAX can synchronize with pictures)
  14. PostScript (PS)

There exist several digital rights management (DRM) formats. Some are part of a format definition (e.g. MobiPocket), some are defined independently and included as format plugins if I understand right (but I probably don't) - Daniel K. Schneider.

Special purpose hardware

See e-book reader

Software for desktops and mobile devices

More entries for clients and production tools should be added here. In the meantime go to MobileRead Wiki. This website includes most everything you need to know about e-books.

E-book readers
E-book authoring
  • Book Designer
  • Sigil, a multi-platform WYSIWYG ebook editor designed to edit books in ePub format. (tested, works)
  • Jutoh, e-book editor/converter tool for various output formats, input from ODT, HTML and text (cheap commercial, $22). Not tested.
E-book conversion tools (and reader)
  • Calibre, free, open source and cross-platform creator and reader. (tested, works)
  • eCub, a simple to use EPUB and MobiPocket ebook creator. (tested, works)
  • online-convert.com, is a free online ebook converter that lets you convert ebooks to other ebook formats. Supports ePub, FB2, LIT, LRF, MOBI, OEB, PDB, PDF and TCR. A target ebook reader can also be specified.
On-demand generated books

A new trend may be on-demand generated books, e.g. with either PDF libraries or XSLFO to PDF pipelines, one can quite easily implement book output from databases or different file formats.

  • Some Mediawiki extensions allow to print an article or a collection of acticles as PDF. See the wiki book article.
  • XML Standards like DITA are specifically made for such endeavors.
  • Editors like O'Reilly also have technology in the pipeline, e.g. see the SafaryU project (now on hold) that allowed teachers to combine books from several sources.

In education and academia

So, far I don't know if there is a real potential for e-book hardware in education, since I'd rather see all learners with notebooks that have tools that need to get things done. IMHO the real big potential for ebooks is the beach (or rather the bar since after one hour the beach gets boring). Or more generally speaking, situations were you want to read a lot (without working with the text) and where you can't bring piles of books. Commuting in a train would be another such situation. - Daniel K. Schneider

We believe that E-books defined as a form of "digital file" do have a future. In particular, we believe that formats that can be rendered appropriately on multiple devices will become more and more popular. As not (yet) perfect example we can cite this wiki. Pages can be read on a normal computer and on smaller devices (somewhat) and can be printed as PDF. Collections of articles can be rendered as PDF file or be bough through Pediapress in bookform. Such flexible technologies will be very popular in the open educational resources movement.

Commercial initiatives also exist, e.g. Amazon's Whispercast system, that allow to deliver its "Kindle" contents across platforms to a targeted audience.

In academia, the way research is published also will see change. E.g. some electronic journals don't just allow people to read HTML and to download PDF for printing, but they also may allow comments and finally help the user navigate through the publication space by providing various extra-information like citations by others links, or links to follow up references. Finally e-texts may change the way reviewing is done. Instead of the current accept/reject pattern, future e-journals may publish most submissions, but have reviewers and readers rate them (E.g. see Withworth 2009).


  • 7 Things You Should Know About E-books PDF - a good layman's introduction from EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative
E-book repositories with free e-books


  • Ardito, S. (2000), "Electronic books: To "E" or not to "E"? That is the question", Searcher, Vol. 8 No.4, pp.28-39, HTML
  • Anuradha, K.T., H.S. Usha (2006), Use of e-books in an academic and research environment: A case study from the Indian Institute of Science, 40 (1) 48-62, HTML/PDF (Access restricted)
  • Gibbons, S. (2005), Electronic Books in Libraries, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY HTML
  • Sulli, J.D. (2004), "Choose your eBook readers", Writers-Publish: the information for new writers and publishers, HTML
  • Tedd, L.A. (2004), "Ebook development in UK higher education: an overview", Unesco Interactive Workshop on Ebooks, Hotel Atria, Bangalore, September 16, 2004: PDF.
  • Urs, S.R. (2004), "Unesco Interactive Workshop on Ebooks, Bangalore, September 16 2004: a report", PDF.
  • Whitworth, Brain & Rob Friedman (2009). Reinventing academic publishing online. Part I: Rigor, relevance and practice, First Monday 14 (8).
  • Whitworth, Brain & Rob Friedman (2009). Reinventing academic publishing online. Part II: A socio-technical vision, First Monday 14 (9).