Various Ebook formats explained

Various ebook fomats

Reading in the screen age has changed dramatically. We are no longer confined to the pages bound between the covers of printed books. In this digital age, books no longer have to be heavy or bulky. In fact, a ebook doesn’t have weight, dimensions, or any other real physical attribute. What it does have however are file types and file sizes. These well formated eBooks are properly displayed on the right device or screen become reading material.

What are the Popular eBook Formats?

eBooks come in several formats, but there only a few that stand out as favourites. The most used file formats for eBooks are

  • PDF
  • MOBI
  • EPUB

For comic books and graphic novels, the most popular file type is fixed Layout. Read more to find out which is the best option for your book!

An eBook can be created and published in many different file formats. Each of which will require their own compatible reader. The right eBook reader will translate the bits of data found in the eBook file and display them as words or pictures on the screen. The result will be a virtual book page that you can read as you would a physical, paper book page.

Though what you see on screen might be similar to a physical page, you’ll now have more ways of interacting with it. You can change the font style, font size, page size, backlight intensity, and so much more. With the latest eBook technologies, you can even enjoy complementing media embedded into the pages such as music, audio, and animation for a more engaging and immersive reading experience. These interactive functionalities add a whole different level of enjoying your book titles that’s not possible with physical books.

Another big difference between physical books and eBooks has to do with storage. Because an eBook is a virtual book, it needs to be stored on physical memories or servers that can be accessed locally on a device or via the cloud.

A typical eBook reader that has a memory size of a few gigabytes is capable of containing multiple titles. In fact, one eBook reader can be as light as a single paperback book but with the large memory capacity it has, can store hundreds if not thousands of books – a literal library of your favorite titles available at your fingertips.

Just What is an eBook?

An e-book or eBook stands for electronic book. It’s a digital format for books. Think of it as an electronic or digital copy or version of a printed book. An eBook may also be a standalone digital file only published as an eBook without a physical book counterpart.

There are many different file types used for eBooks, but they function in basically the same way. An eBook file is a single file that acts as an archive of digital pages. These pages, much like their paper counterparts, will contain words and images. Unlike paper books however, an eBook page may contain some feature of interactivity with the use of hyperlinks. The links on an eBook page allows readers to jump to specific pages or even specific parts of the book. This linked navigation capability is especially useful in the table of contents section and footnotes. A link could also direct the reader to an external website where appropriate.

How to Read eBooks?

how to read ebooks

To read an eBook, you need a compatible eBook reader or e-reader. Compatibility is a big issue since there are many different file formats available for eBooks, and not all eBook readers support every eBook file type. The e-reader is a program that is designed to correctly display on screen the text and images found on the pages of the eBook. You could either download eBook readers for your PC, laptop, or mobile devices, or you could purchase dedicated eBook reader devices like Amazon’s Kindle.

The following are some of the more popular eBook readers available.



Kindle is the flagship eBook reader from the retail giant, Amazon. Originally released in 2007, it’s a standalone reader that displays eBooks in the AZW, MOBI, PRC, TXT, and PDF file formats. All Amazon e-readers that are produced under the Kindle line can only display black and white pages. A Kindle can’t display EPUB eBooks.

Amazon Fire (Formerly Kindle Fire)

Amazon recognized the limitations of their Kindle line and introduced Kindle Fire in 2011. The Amazon Fire line of tablets features the ability to display colors on a Gorilla Glass touch screen. The Fire tablet can correctly display all formats used by the Kindle as well as have its very own proprietary file format KF8 and KFX formats. The Fire tablet also has the ability to display images in the JPG, BMP, GIF, and PNG file types, video in MP4 and VP8, audio in AAC, OGG, MP3, and WAV, and Word files in DOC and DOCX. Like the Kindle, the Amazon Fire tablet cannot display EPUB eBooks.



Released in 2010, Kobo became the most successful competitor of Kindle. Just like Kindle, it’s a dedicated eBook reader that displays pages in monochrome. Unlike the Kindle, Kobo is able to display EPUB. Other files that KOBO supports are PDF, MOBI, JPEG, PNG, BMP, TIFF, GIF, TXT, RTF, HTML, and even CBZ and CBR for comic books.


The book-selling giant Barnes & Noble wanted to get in on the eBook trend, so they released their very own eBook reader and media player in 2009 – the Nook. Recent versions of the NOOK line of tablets support EPUB and PDF but not MOBI.

iPad – Apple Books (Formerly iBooks)

Apple got a big slice of the pie with the iPad. Released in 2010, this tablet is an eBook reader as well as a media playing beast. The iPad comes with a preinstalled, proprietary eBook reader: the Apple Books (formerly known as iBook’s). The file formats that the iBooks or Apple Books supports are EPUB, PDF, and OPDS.

Adobe Digital Editions (ADE)

ADE is Adobe’s version of the eBook reader. ADE is not a dedicated eBook device. Instead, it is a software program that can be installed on iOS and Android devices. While they already have Adobe Acrobat for PDFs, they still had to compete with eBook readers that support the popular EPUB format – thus the development of ADE. ADE supports EPUB, EPUB3, and PDF.



Readium is an EPUB eBook reader that’s packaged as a Chrome extension. It supports EPUB3 functionalities such as media overlays and reflowable eBooks. Readium can also work well with accessibility software like JAWS for screen reading. 

DRM and Accessibility (Daisy) in eBooks

DRM stands forDigital Rights Management. DRM is a software tool that protects copyrighted material like eBooks. When an eBook is DRM protected, the eBook cannot be copied or shared. The eBook basically cannot be migrated to another device, which makes DRM not so popular with many eBook enthusiasts.

DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information System. DAISY is an audio book digital standard that’s used for those who are visually impaired or are dyslexic. With DAISY, an audio book is read aloud and can be manipulated for enhanced understandability. Such interface features include the ability to regulate the speed of speaking, line by line navigation, and even placing “bookmarks.”

What are the Different Formats that Kindle can Read?

Kindle is only capable of displaying eBooks in their native Kindle formats, namely AZW, AZW3, KF, KFX, and a couple others that include PRC, MOBI, and TXT. Let’s go over a few of these file types.


A .MOBI file is an eBook format that was developed by Mobipocket. It’s the file format that all current Kindle formats are based on. All Kindle readers can still display MOBI eBooks even without conversion. The MOBI file supports the addition of notes, bookmarks, and even corrections.

KF8 or AZW3

The KF8 is the latest version of the MOBI-based proprietary file format. It now supports the HTML5 and CSS3 web standards. This allows for more complex book layout designs. KF8 files are also backward compatible with older generations of Kindle since they are compiled with a .MOBI version.

Guided View vs Fixed Layout

In comics, the Guided View offers a new experience for comic lovers. With the Guided View that’s offered by Amazon’s Comixology, readers are guided throughout the page as panels are selectively displayed for effect. This includes zooming in and out of images or balloons on the panels, creating a more cinematic experience.

The Fixed Layout approach employs the same layout as would be seen on a printed page. On a fixed layout page, all elements are “fixed” onto the page and cannot be moved around. Think of it as a printed page, only that it’s digitized. With a fixed layout eBook or digital comic, you have the ability to zoom in or zoom out of the page, but page navigation is manually operated.

What is EPUB?

EPUB stands for Electronic Publication. It is a well-known open digital format for storing eBooks that anyone can use. There are plenty of EPUB eBook readers available online for mobile and desktop users. Sadly, Kindle is not one of them. Kindle has made it a point not to include EPUB as a valid file type for their Kindle devices. This is a business move that protects their bottom line by essentially forcing Kindle users to use and purchase eBooks formatted using the exclusive proprietary Kindle file types. However, there are a few ways to circumvent this problem. The most popular method is with the help of a free open-source eBook reader to convert EPUB books to the valid Kindle file format.


EPUB3 is the latest innovation of this eBook format standard. It utilizes a lot of new interactive features that are provided by web standards such as HTML5 and CSS3. One of the most important of these interactive functions is the read aloud function wherein words on the page are read aloud. Other interactive features that enhance the reading experience include pop up definitions of words, narrations, music and audio, and even animated illustrations.

EPUB3 is capable of using a reflowable layout for eBooks. This means that elements such as text and images are no longer fixed on the page. This is an especially important feature since different reading devices have different screen sizes. With the reflowable layout, no element is pushed out of the screen. Everything adjusts automatically to fit the screen display for an effective reading experience. EPUB3 also allows media overlays and changeable elements such as adjustable file styles and size.

The Fixed Layout eBook is “fixed” and static. You cannot make changes to the layout. This means that you’re stuck with the font style and size. Depending on screen size, some elements such as images and words may be pushed off screen. To view these, you must scroll or zoom in and out of the page. Even with fixed layout, if the eBook utilizes the EPUB3 standard, interactive features are still supported.

What is a Book PDF?

A PDF is a popular file format that serves as an archive for digital copies of documents. PDF stands for Portable Document File, which clearly describes what it is. Being an electronic version of a document, this particular file type lends itself well to books. You can have a PDF version of a physically published book by scanning it or having the source Word document published as a PDF file.

PDFs are popular because they are lightweight archives that can be opened on desktops, laptops, or mobile devices. You simply need to have a PDF reader installed, such as the pioneer Acrobat Reader.

What is the Best Format for an eBook?

In terms of accessibility and popularity, there are three main formats: PDF, EPUB, and the Kindle MOBI formats. In terms of features, there are no clear winners since most of these formats have very similar functionalities.


EPUB and MOBI are the two competing, most widely used eBook standard formats in the world. The main difference is that EPUB is an open standard that was developed and continuously maintained by the IDPF or the International Digital Publishing Forum, while MOBI is a proprietary technology owned by Amazon through its acquisition of Mobipocket.

MOBI is the format on which Amazon based all of its Kindle eBook file formats while EPUB is used by every other eBook reader. EPUB files can be read by most eBook readers except for Amazon’s Kindle. Kindle makes it a point to not include EPUB in its supported file formats. Both have similar functionalities.

Their most recent versions, KF8 for MOBI and EPUB3 for EPUB, have much more improved interactive functionalities and are both able to display reflowable and fixed layout content. Both support HTML5 and CSS3.

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