EPUB, MOBI, AZW, PDF… what's the difference between ebook formats, and what do they mean to you?

If you've ever tried to research the difference between ebook formats, you've probably noticed most explanations are heavy on technical jargon and light on plain English. They're laden with terms like XML, HTML5, and CSS - terms unfamiliar to most non-programmers.

The rest of us don't care how different ebook formats are made; we only care about how those differences affect us. Here, Direct Textbook offers clarification

Though there are more than two dozen ebook formats, the most popular formats are:
  • EPUB
  • MOBI
  • AZW
  • PDF

Each of these ebook types can have different file extensions; for example, AZW ebooks can be listed as .azw, .azw3, and .kf8. The file extensions can represent different profiles created using the format as a base.

For example, Apple's .ibooks (IBA) file extension is a proprietary profile of the EPUB format, which is an open format. Amazon's .azw3 extension is the latest version of the AZW format, which is in turn based on the MOBI format. Each ebook "file" is actually a collection of files that collectively build the ebook

Confused yet? It's OK - none of this really matters to you, the reader. In fact, there are only two things you need to know about any given ebook format:
  • Compatibility with your ebook reader
  • Supported functions

Compatibility with your ebook reader

What device do you use to read ebooks? An iPhone or iPad? Amazon Kindle? Nook? Android device? Laptop? Whatever it is, you need to make sure any ebooks you purchase are compatible with your device. For example, the Amazon Kindle supports AZW, PDF, and MOBI formats, but not EPUB. Apple's iPad will support EPUB, IBA, and PDF, but not MOBI or AZW.

If you're not sure what ebook formats your device supports, conduct a search for "YOUR DEVICE + supported ebook formats."

What if my ebook reader doesn't support the ebook I need?

If you can't find the ebook you need in a format your reader supports, you still have options:
  • Use an app to read your ebook. Download an app or software that can read the format you have. Amazon's Kindle Reader app, for example, is available as a free download for many devices, including Apple devices.
  • Convert your ebook from one format to another. Calibre is one free option, but there are others. Keep in mind conversions aren't always perfect, and are sometimes impossible

In most cases, you should be able to find a way to read the ebook you need on the device you already have.

Supported functions

If you have the option between two or more ebook formats supported by your reader, you might want to know what functions each supports.

For example, MOBI does not support dynamic content such as audio or video. AZW and EPUB do. Another EPUB profile, EDUPUB, is in the works to support interactive textbook features. This chart details what functions are supported by the most popular ebook formats.

You probably won't have to worry about supported functions; the ebook formats most commonly used on the most popular devices today all support dynamic content.

For most readers, ebook formats will never deserve a second thought. If you do encounter formatting trouble, use the tips listed here to make your ebook readable. Failing that, you at least have a good excuse to buy the latest and greatest ebook reader.

    Aug 27, 2015    Comments (61 views)     (3)   Share: Share This Page Share on Facebook Tweet This Share on Google Plus

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