About eBooks, eReaders, and Reading Apps
What You Need to Know about reading eBooks.
- Intended to be read through in whole -
by support staff

also see: iPads, Kindles, eReaders, and Way of Life Material

Introduction to eBooks and eBook apps
So you are interested in eBooks? Great! Getting off to the right start is very important. Here is some basic information to get you started.

Basic eBook "Types"
There are two basic types of eBooks, "Fixed" and "Flowing." The "pdf" file is the common "fixed" format and the two most common "flowing" formats are "mobi" (Kindle) and "epub" (B&N, Apple, many others)."

The pdf format provides for a fixed layout of a book or document. It is the same "universal" pdf format as pdf's that you probably already have on your computer. The drawback to the pdf format is that the layout is fixed… the user cannot change the layout. The page is simply sized larger or smaller depending upon the device it is used on. A pdf may work well on a computer screen or on a larger size tablet, but it will be harder to read on a smart-phone or very small tablet. The great thing about the pdf format is that pdf readers are common and it's very easy to create pdf files from Word files and Pages (Apple/Mac) files. Anyone can do it, no "ebook" knowledge necessary. Most all modern computers now come with software that reads pdf files.

The "flowing" type eBook is what I think of as "a true ebook" file. The advantage to the "flowing" eBook is that the user can change type size, font, color, spacing, and other attributes as he or she desires. For example, the user can make the text larger and the book will simply "reflow" using the larger size. There are many other options: For example, your day reading can be done with black text on white background and then with a simple option turned on you can use a "night reading" setup to read white text on black background.

My favorite reading setup on my iPad is an "off white" text on dark blue background using a sans-serif font such as Arial or Helvetica. You may prefer something totally different but that is the beauty of these apps, you can set everything the way YOU want to read. Not all e-reading apps offer the same options so the selection of your reading app is very important. Some apps are excellent (checkout my favorite- "Marvin" for iPad/iPhone), while others are very, very bad! Don't settle for a poor reading app!

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and other big retailers typically offer "flowing" books. As the eBook industry grows, the "flowing" formats are allowing for more and more complex layouts. Though the pdf format will be used for years to come it will be used less as more people go mobile and read on their phones and tablets.

"Flowing" eBook Formats
Just as there are different formats in the "text editor" world (.doc files for Word, .txt for plain text, .rtf for rich text, etc) there are different formats in the eBook world. Typical eBook types are "epub" and "mobi". Retailers (Amazon, B&N, Apple, etc) will take these "base" formats, wrap their own code around it (copy protection, etc) and end up with their own proprietary format that will work on their systems only. Epub and mobi are the popular formats, but there are many others.

Dedicated Readers vs. Tablets - (Kindle vs. iPad)
Dedicated eBook Readers such as the Kindle Touch and Paperwhite, Nook (Barnes & Noble), Kobo Reader, Sony Reader, etc have the advantage of being cheaper than tablets as well as smaller and lighter. The dedicated eBook reader has the dis-advantage of operating only as the manufacturer desires. It is essentially a doorway to their online stores. When reading a book you are limited to the current software provided on the device.

Note that both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have "eBook Readers" that are are actually tablets running Android OS. Amazon has the Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble the Nook HD. In these cases the "Reader" is actually a tablet and they need to be compared to other tablets such as the Apple mini-iPad. When comparing check processor speed, amount of memory, etc. You may save money with a "cheaper" tablet but it probably won't hold as many apps, books, videos, and powerpoints. Compare and learn! Know what you are buying.

The Tablet (such as the Apple iPad and other tablets) is higher in cost but you are not only getting a book reader, you are getting a computer! With a tablet you have more options for your eBook reading app including many 3rd party apps which are often the best. Tablets are also usually much faster than dedicated readers such as the Kindle Paperwhite and as mentioned above you have thousands of apps available to run on it.

My iPad currently has the following eBook apps: Marvin (my favorite), iBooks, Kindle for iPad, Bluefire Reader, Ouiivo, eReader, Nook, Play Books (Google), Kobo Reader, ShuBook, MegaReader, plus others. I primarily use Marvin and Kindle but I have the other apps loaded for evaluation and testing purposes. It's very interesting to see how differently a book will look and act in each of five or six apps.

Again, in the "tablet" vs "Kindle" debate you get what you pay for. To read and annotate pdf's I have iAnnotate and GoodReader. GoodReader will also play audio and video and will also expand downloaded zip files.

To manage loaned library books I have Overdrive and I have several Bible Study apps some of which contain many eBooks which are "synced" to the Bible. Try doing all that with a (low-end) Kindle or a Nook! You might have to double or triple your cash outlay to buy a tablet, but you get so much more!

Retailers, Devices, and Apps
Make no mistake: Apple's iBooks app and Amazon's Kindle (device and apps) are made to sell you books from their bookstore. That is what they are designed for.

iBooks will download books from the iBookstore (iTunes) and the Kindle will download books from Amazon and the Nook will download books from B&N. Each of these services stores your purchased books on their servers (the "cloud") and you download the book to your device(s) "as needed". The file is in "their" proprietary format and you can only do with it what they allow. For example, Apple iBooks are readable ONLY with their iBooks app and Amazon intends their books to be read only with their devices and apps. I hope you are beginning to see that the selection of your device, app and retailer is very important! More importantly, it is vitally important that you understand all of your options on obtaining, converting, and handling your eBooks. Read on!

What about "other" sources?
So we have the Apple store, the Kindle store, Barnes and Noble, etc. But what if you want to download one of our free Way of Life eBooks? What if you have downloaded a free public domain ebook from another site, such as Google Play, Project Gutenberg, or someone other than the "big guys?" What if you have purchased an eBook from an "indie" (Independent Publisher.) How do you get those books to your eReader? That leads us to….

Suppose you want to download a free Way of Life eBook. Even though you did not buy it from one of the major retailers, you can still add the eBook to your reading device. This is called "side-loading" because you are not downloading a purchased book from the retailer. You are "loading" the book from the "side." for example, by using your desktop or laptop computer. A good eReader app will give you various ways to "side load" a book.

For example, if you have an iPad you can load an .epub file to any number of reading apps using iTunes or file transfer utilities. You can also load a .mobi file to the "Kindle for iPad" app, also using iTunes. Alternately, if you have an Amazon Kindle account, you can upload the .mobi version of the book to your Kindle account (i.e.: the Amazon "cloud") and the eBook will then be accessible to any Kindle device or app. Amazon also has a "Send to Kindle" app which uploads your eBook to your Amazon account. Uploading an eBook to my Amazon account is a easy as dropping the ebook file onto the Send to Kindle icon. A window pops up and I can setup a "whispernet" download to my Kindle touch, Kindle Fire, iPad, or all three! To add eBooks to my Marvin app (iPad) I simply drop them into a pre-defined folder in my Dropbox!

Search all Sources for Books!
Some of your best sources for books will NOT be the traditional big retailers. Services like Google Books (Google Play), Project Gutenberg, and others offer many FREE books that are in the Public Domain. There are many, many, excellent works available. One example is "An appeal to the public for religious liberty.." by Isaac Backus, written in 1773. (search books.google.com for Isaac Backus). Note that the technical quality of these books is not always "top notch" as the files come from "quick scans" of entire libraries. But if you search, you'll find some real gems!

Be in Control! - Calibre
With unlimited supplies of eBooks from unlimited sources, how do you "control" your books? You can end up reading Apple books with iBooks, Amazon books with Kindle (device and/or app), and free ebooks on various 3rd party apps. How do you stay in control?

Ideally, you find your "favorite" system (device and app) and you convert and use all your books for that system. To do this you'll need eBook management software. It's called "
Calibre." It is free and available for Mac and Windows. It "stores" all your eBooks and lists them by name, author, keyword, etc. It can even send the eBook to your device (Kindle, iPad, etc), though it may be best to side load the book manually if you are using a tablet and 3rd party apps. Calibre also converts eBooks from one format to another (such as .mobi to ePub).

Calibre does so much and has so many features it may seem "too much" for you. The good thing about Calibre is that you can just use the "basic" functions if you choose. Don't overlook it, especially if you start to collect lot's of books.

If you choose not to use Calibre you'll want to come up with a "thoughtful" way of obtaining, storing, and reading your books or you'll soon be "over-run" with eBooks. If you read on a Kindle, iPad, or whatever, you'll probably want to download and keep all your eBooks in a single place on your desktop or laptop computer. You can then read them on your computer and/or load them to your devices. And don't forget to back-up your ebook files!

eBook apps - What to Look for in your Reader software.
One of the great thing about eReading on tablets (or smartphones) is the many apps available to choose from. Some are good, some are very limited. Some are outright awful. There is no one "perfect" app (though for me, "Marvin" comes close) and you must choose the app that works best for you.

Some things to look for in an eBook reading app:
- Color options: Can you change the color of the background and type? (I like white text on dark blue background.)
- Font options: How many fonts (type styles) can you choose from? (Some fonts on some readers won't show bold or italics!) My favorite is Arial.
- Layout options: Can you change text indents, justification, line spacing, paragraph spacing, etc? (Some apps give you a quick option to use your custom settings or to "use publishers" default settings.)
- Categories: Can books be placed into "categories" for easy organization.
- Notes and markers: How easy it is to make notes and set markers within the book?
- Does the app work with Dropbox?
- OPDS: Does the app provide for
- Dictionary: Does the app have a built-in dictionary?
- Book Sources: Can you search online for books and download them?

The above list is ordered by what I personally like to see in a reading app. If an app can't' do the top five things I immediately dismiss it.

- Greg Schneck, support staff

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