eBook Reading devices were a popular gift item this holiday season. There was a lot of hype surrounding them because some new ebook readers were released and others were being sold at special low prices.
If you got an eBook Reader as a gift, you might not know what to do with it. It will be very important that you learn how to use your device and do some preliminary research before you buy and download any ebooks. Please use the following steps as a guide.
1. Do not buy the first ebook you see.
It might be temping to Google one of your favorite books and try to download it as an ebook, but please don’t do that before you’ve learned more about how ebooks work. You will only cause yourself a headache.
2. Determine which ebook formats and file types your device supports.
Your ebook reader device came with a manual or a user guide. READ IT. You don’t have to read it cover-to-cover, but find the part that specifies which file types your device can use.
You should also be able to find this information on the website for the device. Look for sections called “specs” “tech specs” “features” or something similar.
For example, if you have a BeBook Neo you would go to mybebook.com and find the information for the Neo.
I have posted information about supported file types for many popular devices on my eReader Comparisons page. Look under “File Formats Supported” for each device.
3. Try to find a free ebook in a supported format to try out.
BIG DISCLAIMER: Free ebooks usually don’t have DRM* so they do not behave the same way as an ebook that is protected by DRM. For example, you won’t have to “authorize” your device or software. By testing out your eBook reader with a free ebook, you can make sure that the standard file type works on your device, but you won’t yet be completely set up for ebooks that you purchase.
4. Learn how to transfer the ebook from your computer to your device.
Once you know the file types that are supported by your device and you have an ebook in that format, you need to know how to get it from your computer to the device. The best place to find instructions for this is in the user guide or manual.
Most of the time, you will need to connect the device to your computer via a USB cable that it came with. Your computer will recognize the device similarly to how it would recognize a thumb drive or external hard drive.
5. Find an eBook store that sells eBook formats that are supported by your device.
If you have a Kindle, you will need to purchase Kindle ebooks from Amazon. Do not attempt to purchase ebooks elsewhere, because 95% of the time they won’t work.
If you have another dedicated ebook reading device like a Nook, BeBook, Cybook, Kobo, or Sony Reader, then you can buy ebooks from just about any ebook retailer. Some good retailers include ebookmall.com, diesel-ebooks.com, fictionwise.com, and ebooks.com.
You can also purchase ebooks from the same company that makes the ebook reader if it also has an ebook store. For example, if you have a Nook then you can get ebooks from Barnes & Noble.
6. Verify that your device is supported by the ebook store.
Don’t assume that an ebook that you buy at an ebook retailer will work on your device. It is very important that you check all of the product details before placing an order.
If you know that your device can use PDF and EPUB files, then double-check to make sure that the ebook you want to purchase is indeed in that format. If you can’t figure it out, email the company to make sure.
7. Install and authorize any required software before making a purchase.
There is one more layer of double-checking the format that you must do. It is vitally important that you determine whether the ebook you want to buy has DRM on it or not.
For example, many devices support PDF and EPUB files. Those two formats have become the most common and are generally the standard. However, the publisher of the book most likely has required that DRM be present on the download. This means that you will have to use a program called Adobe Digital Editions to download the ebook and manage the transfer of the ebook from your computer to your device. You will need to download Adobe Digital Editions and authorize it using an Adobe ID. Please see my post about Adobe Digital Editions for specific instructions on how to work with this program.
Or, you may be working with a different file type, such as a Mobipocket eBook or a Palm eReader eBook. Check out the other types of ebook software that I’ve reviewed for more information.
8. Follow all download instructions to the letter.
Even if you think you have the software that you need, or you think you don’t need to create a special account, go ahead and follow the instructions anyway. In most cases, you really do need to do what you are being told to do. eBook retail websites don’t give you unnecessary instructions. If you ignore the instructions you will mess up your download.
9. Use these steps as a guide but use your own judgement and follow posted instructions.
These steps are very general. I can’t give you specific instructions here because I don’t know what kind of device you have. Always read your manual and follow the instructions given to you by the website where you are buying your ebooks.
* What is DRM?
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It is the method by which ebooks are protected from being distributed freely to others. The software ties the ebook to your account so that you can’t give it away. The details will vary depending on the software. This security is required by book publishers because they want to protect their copyrights.
This question regarding whether ebooks are printable or not seems to have become less of an issue over the past year or two, as more ebook reader devices have become available and as they have become more popular. Before that, ebooks were being used on the computer more than they are now. Also, people would often purchase an ebook with the intent of downloading it to their computer and then printing a copy.
Personally, I think that’s pretty silly. I am guessing that the idea behind this method is that you could buy an ebook and print it faster than you could buy a paper book and wait for it to be delivered. But when you consider the cost of printer paper and printer ink, I don’t think it makes much sense.
Another situation that might lend itself to printing an ebook is when an independent author has self-published his/her book as an ebook, but it’s not available as a paper book. In that case, a person might be interested in the content of the book but not want to read it on a screen. In this situation, printing an ebook makes a little more sense, but it still seems like way too much trouble to me.
The majority of ebooks that you’ll buy are not printable at all. Let’s consider each popular ebook format separately:
Kindle AZW Format:
I don’t own a Kindle or use Kindle ebooks (I have a BeBook Neo) so I’ve never tried to print a Kindle ebook. However, I searched Amazon’s Kindle Help section and I couldn’t find any information about printing at all. This leads me to believe that Kindle ebooks don’t have a printing function. Since they are designed to be read on Kindle devices, or other Kindle apps for your computer or mobile devices, it makes sense that a printing function would not have been built into the software.
Microsoft Reader Format:
Microsoft Reader ebooks are not printable at all. Microsoft did not build a printing function into the software.
Mobipocket Reader Format:
Mobipocket Reader ebooks are not printable at all. Again, Mobipocket did not build a printing function into the software. This makes sense because even though Mobipocket ebooks can be read on a Windows PC, they were primarily designed for reading on mobile devices like Blackberrys, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, etc.
Palm eReader Format:
Again, same story. There is no printing function because this software was designed to be used on mobile devices.
EPUB ebooks are printable by default. If the EPUB file is being protected by DRM, such as with Adobe’s Content Server DRM, then the publisher of the ebook can disable the printing function. If you’re not sure whether this has been done, it’s safest to assume that you won’t be able to print the ebook. Don’t buy an ebook with the intention of printing it if you’re not sure whether you will be able to print it.
PDF is the most likely candidate for printing, but you still have to make sure that printing hasn’t been disabled by the publisher of the ebook. When a PDF file is created with Adobe Acrobat, the creator of the file can change the document security so that printing is not allowed. (Other features can also be disabled, such as the ability to copy text from the document.)
Other Formats like Word, txt, HTML:
Microsoft Word files, plain text files (.txt) and HTML files are printable. But like I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t consider these files types to be real ebooks.
Should eBooks Be Printable?
My answer is: I don’t think that ebooks need to be printable. One of the main differences between an ebook and a paper book is that the ebook is not printed on paper. If you buy an ebook and then print it, you lose some of the benefits of ebooks like the fact that they don’t use up trees, and the fact that they are digital files that don’t take up physical space.
Many book publishers don’t want their ebooks to be printable because they are concerned about copyright violations. Printing an ebook multiple times with the intention of re-selling it is much easier than scanning a book and then printing off multiple copies.
There are some cases in which an ebook needs to be printable. Some ebooks contain maps, charts, or other graphics that might need to be printed. There are also ebooks that contain plays or sheet music that might need to be printed by the person who is using them. In those cases, it is important that the book publisher leave the printing function available for the consumer. But like I said above, if you are buying an ebook with the intention of printing it, check with the seller before placing your order.
In a nutshell, you can determine fairly easily whether an ebook will be printable or not if you consider the format of the ebook and whether or not it is protected by DRM. If the ebook is EPUB or PDF, it will probably be printable if there is no DRM present. If the ebook is in a format that was designed for use on e-readers or other mobile devices, then it is not printable. If you’re buying a current popular ebook from a mainstream ebook retailer, you should assume that the publisher of the book requires DRM on the download, which will disable printing in most cases.
Bottom line: If you want a printed book, buy a printed book. Don’t buy an ebook.
ACSM files are a source of much confusion for people who buy ebooks that are protected with Adobe DRM. I’m going to go over a few of the most frequently asked questions about these files, and I hope it will clear up the mystery for everyone.
What is an .acsm file?
ACSM stands for Adobe Content Server Manager. That name gives a clue as to the purpose of these files — they are download manager files. They manage the download of your ebook.
The majority of the time, you don’t even see the .acsm file when you download an Adobe ebook. Usually the only time you see it is if you haven’t properly set up Adobe Digital Editions, or you don’t even have it installed. I can’t stress this enough: before you buy Adobe ebooks, whether PDF or EPUB, install the software you need! If you haven’t installed the correct software for any file type, your computer won’t know what to do with it.
If you do have Adobe Digital Editions installed and authorized correctly, then you won’t even see the .acsm file at all. It will do its job in the background of your ebook download. The purpose of this file is to communicate with Adobe’s content server and register the ebook to the Adobe ID that you have used to authorize ADE. If you don’t know how to do the authorization process, read my post about it.
What is the purpose of associating an ebook with your Adobe ID? That is how Adobe’s DRM system allows you to use your ebooks on more than one computer or device. If you authorize Adobe Digital Editions with the same Adobe ID on each computer/device, it will let you download the ebook to each of those locations.
This might be a pain sometimes, but it is what we have to live with, at least for now.
How to convert .acsm to .pdf?
You don’t have to convert the .acsm file to another file format at all. That would be quite impossible. This question is based on the mis-assumption that the .acsm file is the ebook. It is not. Let me make that clear: the .acsm file is NOT supposed to be the ebook. It is just a little file that manages the download of the ebook.
The idea that you could convert an .acsm file to a .pdf file is based on the assumption that the .acsm file contains all the text of a book, and that it’s just in the wrong format. That might be true if it was a .doc file, or any other text-based file. That is not what an .acsm file is.
There is no need for you to do any conversion. If you have Adobe Digital Editions installed, then all you have to do is open the .acsm file with that program. Then, the ebook download will continue. When the download is finished, you will have your PDF file.
I tried to download my ebook and all I got was this 1.4 KB .acsm file! That can’t be the entire text of a book!
This is the standard freak-out message that people send. This is usually the result of a person skipping over all the posted software requirements and instructions. Any website that sells ebooks in Adobe’s DRM-protected format will tell you ahead of time that you must use Adobe Digital Editions. If you skip over all those instructions, and you don’t install the software you are told that you need, then of course your computer won’t know what to do with this .acsm file.
As I mentioned above, the .acsm file is NOT supposed to contain the entire text of a book. It is not the ebook at all. It is a small file that manages the download of the ebook through Adobe’s content server.
I hope not, but just in case you missed all of the information above, this is what you should do if you have an .acsm file: open it with Adobe Digital Editions. Do not attempt to open it with Adobe Reader, Acrobat, or any other program.
For the super-confused …
The next question I get from those who have ignored all posted instructions and ended up with an .acsm file that they don’t know what to do with is: But how do I open it with Adobe Digital Editions?
I really have to bang my head on my desk for this one.
Ask yourself this: how do you ever open any other file? There are always three ways:
1. Double-click it. It will open in the program that your computer has associated with that file type. If you have messed up your file associations and the .acsm file is trying to open in the wrong program (like Adobe Reader, for example) then you need to try a different method.
2. Right-click it. Right-click the file, go to “Open With”, and choose Adobe Digital Editions. If that doesn’t do it for you …
3. Open manually from inside the program. Open Adobe Digital Editions. In the upper left area, find LIBRARY. Click the downward arrow next to Library, and click on “Open”. Find the eBook on your computer. It should be in a folder called My Digital Editions, which is in the My Documents folder.
(Those instructions are for Windows, but if you’re on a Mac, you get the general idea.)
ACSM files are not ebooks.
ACSM files manage the download of Adobe DRM-protected ebooks.
Always follow the posted download and installation instructions for any software you purchase.
ACSM files must be opened with Adobe Digital Editions.
Get some free ebooks!
This is just a quick post to say that I’ve updated the eReader Comparisons page. It now has the Nook Color and current prices for all of the devices as of today, December 8th, 2010.
Check it out for tech specs and other important comparisons between all of the top ebook readers, including size, weight, prices, file formats supported, and more.
Sony recently announced that it would be releasing an app for iPhone and Android that would allow Sony Reader eBooks to be read on those devices. This type of software has already existed for the Kindle and Kobo ebooks for a while, so it’s a smart idea for Sony to release something similar. I have been meaning to write a post about those options, and this announcement from Sony reminded me about it.
This is a great way for these companies to be able to sell content (ebooks) to customers who don’t actually own an ebook reader. I know that there must be plenty of people who would be interested in trying out an ebook for the Sony Reader, Kindle, or Kobo, without having to actually buy one of those devices. With these apps, you can buy an ebook from any of these companies and read it on hardware that you already own. Below are details on exactly what kind of software you can use.
Sony’s announcement said that the apps for iPhone and Android would be available in December, but I don’t see them on Sony’s website quite yet. Right now you can get apps for both Windows and Macs. They’re calling it “Reader Library Software” and you can use it to buy ebooks or borrow ebooks from your library.
If you don’t want to buy a Kindle but you do want to take advantage of the convenience of Kindle eBooks, you can get the free Kindle App for Windows, Mac, Blackerry, iPad, iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone 7. The Kindle itself provides a better reading experience with its E-Ink screen because your eyes won’t suffer the strain of reading from an LCD screen. But, like I said above, it’s a useful way to try out an ebook if you’re not yet sure if you want to buy a Kindle. Plus, you can use these apps to share your Kindle ebooks between your devices.
Kobo also covers a lot of different devices with their free reading app: iPhone, Blackberry, Android, and Palm Pre smartphones, iPad and presumably other tablets in the future, and both Windows and Mac desktops.
This kind of cross-platform versatility makes ebook reading seem a lot more appealing. I think that it removes some of the fear that a lot of people have that they’ll be locked into reading a book on specific device, and might lose it if they upgrade that device in the future, or decide to starting reading on something else instead. It also gives you the option of sharing an ebook between different members of your family — for example, you could put an ebook on your e-reader, and also on your spouse’s iPhone. It’s also a good way for these companies to get customers to become familiar with their products. Once trust is developed they might be more likely to buy the e-reader.