Is 19 eBook Formats 18 Too Many?

April 2nd, 2011

Which ebook formats do we really need?

By “need” I’m thinking only about consumer needs, not what the vendors want. *

Formats offered by UK Distributor

I think the only ones we need today are:

1. ePub – Not because it’s any good, but because it’s an industry standard, not just one vendor’s idea.
2. PDF – Because there’s already so much good material in this format, and it preserves “bookishness.”
3. txt – I wish this would go away as an ebook standard, but the folks at Project Gutenberg are my heroes, and can be cut a lot of slack. RTF is preferable as a container for .txt.4.
4. HTML – Because simple native browser support for reading makes the most sense, long term (via XHTML and CSS3).

And the rest be damned (except for a couple of legacy formats, like Newton and PalmDOC, which vendors can support if they’re feeling generous and have time on their hands). Each of these formats could be handled in the browser today except for the darned DRM.

So that’s the theory. The real world has commercial realities that all publishers need to contend with.

I stumbled upon an excellent site from South Africa this morning  – Electronic Books Works and its thorough Knowledge Base. You can also download a good little ebook about ebook design and formatting.

The author recommends four formats for real-world everyday use:

1. PDF
2. epub (with a nod to DTBook)
3. AZW (and its sibling, mobi), and

Makes sense to me.

Footnote * The vendors sometimes want what consumers need, but seem currently to want vendor lock-in, DRM, and other things that benefit primarily them, not us. This should shake out in time…





Wikipedia's format listing