Maybe you have seen offers for them on various websites. Maybe you attended a book fair and noticed some authors selling CD-ROMs alongside paperbacks. Maybe you sat next to somebody at a coffee shop as he read a document on his laptop or personal digital assistant. You might think such things are limited to business some other type of work, but the electronic book, or eBook, is fast becoming a mainstream industry. While eBooks may never achieve the popularity or demand of the printed word, eBook readership is definitely growing and will prove a viable form of media in the future.
What is an eBook?
Before one can delve into specifics about electronic publishing, it is important to note exactly what an eBook is and what purpose an eBook serves. Simply put, the term “electronic book” is self-explanatory: an eBook can be a novel, collection of stories and/or poetry, self-help manual, a treatise, or any document of book length. eBooks may be as short as five thousand words or well over a hundred thousand. Some eBooks may have illustrations and charts embedded within the pages, and others may prove to be more interactive and feature audio and/or video capability.
Some eBooks are registered with Books in Print and made available as downloadable files or on CD-ROMs. Some eBook publishers assign ISBN numbers to their titles, while others may register the works with the US Copyright Office. Many publishers consider eBook production a subsidiary right in their contracts, and may option those rights from an author during negotiations.
The fundamental difference between an eBook and a print book, of course, is that the eBook is an electronic document devised to be read on a computer or special handheld device. eBooks are easy to produce and can be made available in a variety of formats, including but not limited to:
HTML – presented as a simple Web page
Adobe PDF – presented to look like an actual document onscreen, read with Adobe Reader
Microsoft LIT – a special format for the Microsoft Reader and Pocket PC
Mobipocket (.PRC) – a special format compatible handheld PDAs like the Palm or old Handspring devices.
EXE – popular among non-fiction eBooks, this self-extracting format presents the book in a unique form that allows the reader to “turn pages”
However an eBook is produced, special reading software may be required to read the document. While a simple HTML document needs only a web browser, others with different extension may not open in certain readers. It is best to always check with a vendor before purchasing an eBook to make sure you can open the file.
What is the purpose of an eBook?
Electronic books are used for the same purposes as print books, namely for entertainment, business, or news.
Entertainment: these are generally novels and short story/poetry collections. Such eBooks are primarily found through specific websites by top NYC publishers that offer electronic downloads, or through smaller publishers who offer books in electronic and print on demand formats. eBooks from smaller companies may be priced according to length and genre, from two dollars to as high as eight for longer works. eBooks from established publishers may cost more, priced to match their print companions. Popular genres for leisure reads in electronic format include romance, science fiction, and erotica.
Works in the public domain, including novels from the nineteenth century, may be presented in eBook format to download for free. The Gutenberg Library online houses thousands of such works for personal and educational use.
Business: Look around the Internet and you may find a number of sales websites offering eBooks that reveal “secrets to success.” Online entrepreneurs use the eBook format for its simplicity and low-cost production to market ideas and products to customers. In this realm you may find books on how to open a successful online business or how to lose weight. Books of this sort may be distributed free to attract return business or may be sold for as much as thirty dollars for a self-extracting document.
News: Companies or organizations may employ the eBook format to distribute white papers or other important documents. Government reports, business trends, and other information in the public domain may be available in this format.
How are eBooks distributed?
The most common forms of eBook distribution are through the individual publisher’s website and third-party retailers.
The Publisher: Whether it is an established NYC house, a small eBook press or a self-publishing author, chances are high there is a website created to tout the book. A quick Internet search for eBook publishers will land many leads. Such websites offer either immediate download of an eBook through a weblink, or delivery via e-mail as an attachment. Other publishers may burn eBooks to CD-ROM and ship them to customers.
The Third-Party Store: Online retailers like Amazon.com, BN.com, and Fictionwise are good examples of eBook retailers. Such sites offer eBooks for immediate download and may even keep your information on account and make recommendations on future purchases. Such retailers, like eBook publishers, will accept payment through electronic transfer to expedite the sale.
The Future of eBooks
Given the ease of production and distribution, it is likely eBooks may become an important medium in the future. As technology evolves and reading devices become more sophisticated, sales of eBook fiction may rise in the years to come. Handheld eBook readers have the advantage of being able to store several books at once, and offer backlighting for reading in dark places. Cost prohibition on devices and certain eBooks may be the only factor preventing a boom right now, but in time as prices become competitive that may change.
For authors, eBook publication represents the opportunity to polish writing skills and test readership. For entrepreneurs, eBook publication offers a new avenue to product promotion and increasing sales. Whatever your plans for the eBook are, it can be said that electronic books are here to stay.