Early this month Amazon pulled the plug on Mobipocket. If you go to mobipocket.com now, you’ll find a selection of 12 free ebooks on the home page, but all of the other ebooks have been removed. The Mobipocket company was acquired by Amazon in 2005, and they used the technology of the ebook format in the development of their Kindle software.
Before being bought by Amazon, Mobipocket was an odd company. They were based in France and always had a very relaxed way of doing business, sometimes not responding to questions for months at a time, and even not collecting fees from publishers or retailers for months after they were due. On the other hand, I always felt that their software was ahead of its time. Unlike Adobe and Microsoft, they had a pretty good method in place for DRM. It was based on a PID (personal identification) number that was unique to each copy of Mobipocket Reader. All you would have to do was find that number and then enter it before you downloaded your ebook. Later, they switched to a username/password system, which was still much easier than Adobe and Microsoft’s complicated registration systems. The Reader was also very versatile, supporting most of the mobile devices of the time, like Palm, Pocket PC, Nokia, and Blackberry.
In 2008 there was supposed to be a version of Mobipocket Reader released for iPhone, but that never happened. I’m sure at that point Amazon had decided to stop working on the Mobipocket brand separately and just focus on Kindle. Around the same time, or perhaps a little later, people started complaining that the Mobipocket support forum had become useless because staff never responded to posts. Before that, the Mobipocket staff was quite active and provided most of their customer support through the forums.
So, what does this mean for people who used the Mobipocket format in the past? A few things:
– Amazon is claiming that they will keep past downloads available to customers. I would recommend downloading your Mobipocket ebooks as soon as possible just in case those downloads become unavailable later. They probably won’t last forever.
– Mobipocket ebooks with DRM can only be read in Mobipocket Reader, so if you need a copy of that, you should probably download it soon. Who knows how long Amazon will continue to provide downloads for it. (Mobipocket ebooks without DRM can be read in the Kindle software.)
– If you were reading Mobipocket ebooks on a Blackberry device, you’ll probably have to switch to Kobo. They provide an app for Blackberry. Your old Mobipocket ebooks won’t work in the Kobo app, but you can get Kobo ebooks from now on.
– If you were using another device that Mobipocket supported, like a Windows Mobile phone, you have less options right now. The majority of ebooks being sold now are PDF or ePub, and DRM for those formats is usually handled by Adobe’s Content Server. They do not support Windows Mobile (or other devices Mobipocket supported like Symbian and Palm). You will probably have to stick with non-DRM ebooks until an app becomes available for those devices that supports Adobe’s DRM.
Meanwhile, Lexcycle.com is still unavailable, so it looks like Amazon has definitely killed off that software as well.
With all of these ebook formats changing or falling by the wayside (not to mention devices as well), what should a person do? Amazon is doing so well with Kindle ebooks that I bet that format will be pretty safe to use for a long time. Even as they keep introducing upgraded versions of the hardware and software, you should still be able to keep using your older purchases. Other than that, I know that PDF and ePub have persevered over many years. PDF is such a ubiquitous file format that it’s likely to keep being used for many years to come, and ePub is by far the best format for smaller screens like smartphones and it’s still being developed. So if you’re not using a Kindle, it might be a good idea to read ebooks on a device that you use for other purposes, like a phone or tablet. Buying a device that’s only for ebook reading, or using an ebook format that is specific to one type of hardware, will probably be a poor investment in the long run. Instead, try and get PDF or ePubs and read them on a device that you’ve already bought for something else.
The ePub ebook format is so important because of its reflowable nature. “Reflowable” means that the text will rearrange itself to fit your screen size. If you increase or decrease the font size, the text also rearranges itself. This is hugely different from standard page displays like those in PDF files. On those files, if you wish to increase the text size, all you can really do is zoom in on the page. eReaders try to let you increase the font size but it always affects the page size as well, cutting off the edges of the pages. If you zoom too far in, you have to scroll sideways back and forth in order to read the a whole line of text. This is the main reason why I think ePub is the best ebook format, and I hope it stays around for a long time.
And because of that, I wanted to compile a list of the best current ePub reading programs that you can use on your computer. Most eReaders can display ePubs, and you can use them on your Android or iOS device (with programs like Aldiko and Bluefire Reader, for example), but not everyone knows which program to use to open them on your computer.
If you’re going to buy an ePub file that is protected by Adobe’s DRM, you’ll have to use Adobe Digital Editions. Likewise, if you buy an ePub ebook at any specific website that has their own DRM, you’ll probably have to use the software that they recommend, but that depends on the website so I can’t tell you what you need.
For regular ePub files, you have some choices:
Adobe Digital Editions – You can still use Adobe Digital Editions for non-DRM ePubs. I do because I already have it installed on my computer.
calibre – This is a program that lets you create, organize, and read your ebooks.
EPUBReader – A Firefox addon that allows you to read ePubs directly in Firefox.
FBReader – Works on Linux/Unix and Windows.
Mobipocket Reader – Bought by Amazon a while ago, and seems to be slowly shutting down. Still good for now.
There are others available that you can dig up, but these listed above are the ones that I feel are best. Stanza, for example, can read many ebook formats but ignores a lot of formatting so you end up missing out on the intended design of the book. Because of that I suspect that other readers might do the same thing.
I think that we’ll probably see more programs released as more and more people use the ePub ebook format. Even now I am seeing that ePub and PDF are the most popular (Kindle notwithstanding) and since ePub works best on the widest range of devices, it is the clear winner as far as I am concerned.
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.
There are currently many different ebook formats from which to choose. As the ebook industry develops, the amount of formats will probably decrease, as some become standard and others fall away. We’ve already seen this happen to some extent with older e-readers being discontinued and their ebook formats disappearing with them.
These are the most common current ebook formats:
PDF — .pdf
EPUB — .epub
Microsoft Reader — .lit
Mobipocket — .prc
eReader (Palm) — .pdb
Kindle — .azw
There are other formats that can usually be read by e-reader devices, such as .txt and Word files, but I don’t really consider those to be actual ebooks. It’s nice that e-reader devices can display those types of files but they’re really just general text files that you use on your computer.
The best way to choose the format that’s best for you is to make your decision based on what kind of computer or e-reading device you’ll be using. Here is list to get you started:
PDF — Windows, Mac, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, Cool-er, Cybook, BeBook, Pandigital Novel
EPUB — Windows, Mac, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, Cool-er, Cybook, BeBook, Pandigital Novel
Microsoft Reader — Windows, Windows Mobile
Mobipocket — Windows, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Blackberry, iRex iLiad, Nokia
eReader (Palm) — Windows, Mac, Palm OS, Windows Mobile, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad (Apple devices with Stanza)
Kindle — Amazon Kindle
You should always check the tech specs for your particular device to verify the ebook formats that it can use.
eBookMall has a useful comparison chart that shows many devices, the best ebook format for each, and some tech specs like size and weight. Also, there is a huge chart on Wikipedia that shows a comparison of devices and their supported formats.
I used to recommend that people consider whether they need to print the ebook when choosing a format, but so few ebooks are printable now that it’s almost becoming a non-issue. Your best choice for printable ebooks is PDF, but many (if not most) book publishers disable the printing function on their PDF files because they are concerned about copyright protection. In general, if you need a book on paper, it’s best to just buy the paperback.
The formats listed above are the most common that I’ve seen. If you have an e-reader that reads a different ebook format, please leave a comment and mention it. That might be helpful for others who are trying to figure out which ebook format they should use.
Mobipocket Reader is a versatile ebook reading program, and it’s usually pretty easy for the average consumer to use. It can be used on a wide variety of devices like phones and dedicated ebook readers, and its DRM is actually easy to deal with.
Mobipocket Reader can be used on Windows, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Symbian OS (such as the OS used on Nokia devices) and ebook readers like the Cybook and iRex iLiad. You can get a full list of supported devices on the Mobipocket site linked to above. It is likely that your device is included.
You can’t use Mobipocket Reader on a Mac or on Linux, but if you’re running one of those operating systems, you can still get ebooks onto your mobile device through the manual install option.
how DRM is handled
Mobipocket Reader has two ways of handling DRM. The older method utilizes what Mobipocket refers to as a PID number (Personal Identification number). The newer method utilizes a username and password system. If you buy a Mobipocket ebook today you’ll probably get the newer system, but if you’re re-downloading an old purchase you might have to use the PID system. Either is easy and shouldn’t give you much trouble.
You’ll be asked to enter your PID before you can download the Mobipocket ebook. All you have to do is look up the PID in your Mobipocket Reader software, and enter the number where you are being prompted.
To find the PID for your computer:
1. Open Mobipocket Reader
2. On the left-side panel of the screen, click “Reading Devices”
3. Find your computer in the list and click “Edit Properties”
4. Your PID will be displayed next to “Device PID (Personal ID)”
To find the PID on your device:
1. Open Mobipocket Reader
2. Open the “Help” menu
3. Go to the “About” section. The PID will be displayed there.
If you entered the PID correctly, you’ll be able to open the ebook after you download it. The website from which you purchased the ebook should allow you to enter a PID for your computer and your device. That way you can open the ebook in both places.
eBookMall.com has a PID section of their Mobipocket FAQ that will probably solve any question you might have about the process.
The username/password system is simpler. The website from which you purchased the ebook will assign you a username and password (or you will choose your own). When you open the Mobipocket ebook for the first time, it will prompt you to enter the same username and password.
how to transfer ebooks to devices
The transfer of Mobipocket ebooks between your computer and device is handled by Mobipocket Reader (installed on your computer). This is the process:
1. Open Mobipocket Reader on your computer.
2. On the left side of the screen, click “eBooks”.
3. Right-click on the ebook you want to load onto a device.
4. Click “Send” and choose the device.
If prompted to enter your username/password:
– Select the correct retail website.
– Enter your username and password.
5. Sync your device to transfer the ebook.
Mobipocket Reader’s native file format is .prc. It can also import other files, such as PDF, HTML, TXT, RTF, Word, and EPUB.
I think Mobipocket Reader is a great ebook reader. It provides the security level that publishers want, but it doesn’t ever feel like it’s encroaching on the users’ rights. In my years of providing tech support for ebook downloads, I’ve definitely seen that Mobipocket Reader has been easy to use for people. It is good to use on the computer and it runs on a lot of different mobile devices. All in all, it’s a good choice.