eBook Reader Format Wars
Along with a surge of e-Book readers coming to market like the new Kindles, new Sony readers, Barnes and Noble's Nook, Plastic Logic's QUE, and others, comes the question of which file formats offer the most value for consumers. Here’s a rundown of the leading contenders.
Amazon Kindle AZW Format
The Amazon Kindle format for e-Books is called AZW. It’s proprietary and non-Amazon readers can’t read Amazon book. Amazon’s AZW format is based closely on the Mobipocket standard which is based on the Open e-Book standard which uses XHTML. Mobipocket is reported to be working on an ePub to Mobi converter called Mobigen but it remains to be seen whether or not Amazon will offer a converter. However, if the ePub standard continues to gain momentum Amazon may be forced to offer ePub compatibility.
ePub, Free and Open
Sony’s recent announcement that they were switching to the “open,” ePub format from their proprietary BBeB format may signal a victory for ePub in the latest battle of the e-Book readers. Many other e-Book readers have indicated support for ePub like the soon to be released Nook from Barnes and Noble. Adobe Digital Edition also uses the ePub format for its e-Books, with DRM protection provided through their proprietary ADEPT mechanism.

ePub is the official free and open e-Book standard of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). ePub is based on XHTML and includes specifications for formatting, packaging, and organizing files so they can be downloaded and read by any reader supporting ePub. There is an optional DRM layer.

There are a few minor hitches, including concerns about its ability to handle certain types of publications like comic books and technical books and ePub may also present problems with sharing annotations but otherwise it’s a robust and popular standard.

Adobe Portable Document PDF
PDF files have become the standard for portable documents like brochures, product manuals, magazine articles, and even books. The format is derived from PostScript and faithfully reproduces a complicated document for viewing or printing. PDF documents can have issues with “re-flowing,” documents to smaller e-Book screens and mobile devices however, Adobe is trying to address these issues with the latest versions of Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat. PDF support will be a desirable feature in any e-Book reader or mobile device.
One format to keep and an eye on is DjVu. DjVu includes advanced compression technology that makes it very good at handling high resolution images of scanned documents and photographs. With DjVu you can take a 300 DPI high resolution scan and store it in less than 100KB.
Looks like an ePub vs. AZW Battle of the Titans
We shouldn’t forget that e-Books sell e-Book readers and Amazon has a big warehouse, or should we say cloud, of them. When you have as many books as Amazon, you may be able to call the shots in the format department but don’t discount the power of open and free.

ePub is looking more and more like the format of choice for e-Book readers. It’s backed by the IDPF, Adobe, Sony, and most of the non-Amazon, e-Book readers on the market. Adobe even supports exporting to ePub in its InDesign publishing program. We’ll be watching this format war play out as more e-Book readers come to market. If they can’t all learn to get along then may the best format win.

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