Ebook, PDF, And EPUB: What Is The Difference?: A Guide For Self-Publishers

Updated on October 21, 2015


Now, more than ever before, ebooks are being developed exclusively for the screen, and not for print. But now, the term ebook is being used as a generic term for any electronic book, whether it’s in the PDF format or EPUB format. The term “ebook” will remain with us even after the EPUB format becomes the standard for the publishing industry.

What Is An Ebook?
Ebook is short for “electronic book”. An ebook is simply a book that has been formatted so that it can be read on a screen. Until recently, ebooks were typically limited to being read on computer screens and large reading devices.

Open Format Vs. Closed Format
You must understand the difference between “open format” and “closed format”. “Open format” means that a wide range of reading devices can display the publication. “Closed format” means that the publication can only be read on the device that it was downloaded onto – meaning it is proprietary to one company.

Amazon’s Kindle uses a closed format, which means that publications must be downloaded to the Kindle or can only be read on a computer or smartphone if the Kindle app is installed.

What Is PDF?
PDF is short for “portable document format”. It’s a computer program that formats a document to make it easier for computers to share the documents while still retaining the original formatting (fonts, text, images, etc.) – almost like a photocopy of the original document. PDF is the default format for static documents.

The PDF document is indifferent to the device that it’s displayed on or the operating system (Apple/Microsoft) that’s used. It’s the standard way for people (businesses, colleagues, clients, students, etc.) to share electronic documents – and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Until recently, exporting a publication to PDF was the traditional way to create ebooks. The problem with ebooks created with PDF is that they can be difficult to read on a small screen, such as on a cell phone, because the text and images don’t flow gracefully enough to be read on a small screen.

What Is EPUB?
An EPUB is short for “electronic publication format”. It’s a computer program that formats a document to make it easier for computers and small-screen devices to display readable text – it makes the text adapt to every screen size. It can do this because it’s similar to a web page, and an ebook reader is similar to a web browser.

EPUB is the default format for re-flowable documents. The EPUB format is quickly replacing PDF as the standard for eBooks. PDF will remain the standard for document sharing for MS Word and Excel documents, for example.

EPUB is becoming the publishing industry standard because it was designed to make a book’s content “reflowable” irrespective of the size of the screen of the ebook reader, portable/mobile device, or computer screen. The most important point is that EPUB is becoming the standard “open format” for the publishing industry and quickly becoming the standard for most reading devices.

What Is MOBI?
The MOBI format is basically Amazon’s proprietary version of the EPUB format. As an author and self-publisher, you don’t need to be concerned with this. When you upload your .doc file to Amazon, they’ll automatically convert your book into the appropriate format for the Kindle.

There are also other ways to convert your files to the Kindle/MOBI format and then upload them manually to Amazon. But from my experiences, Amazon does an excellent job with the conversion.

What Does This Mean For A Self-Publisher?
As a small publisher, it’s essential that you prepare all of your publications for print and screen. You’ll need to be very familiar with both PDF and the EPUB format. But most importantly, Amazon makes it very easy to upload and convert your books to be listed and sold in the Kindle format. Fortunately, there is only a very small learning curve to become familiar with each format.

With a little effort, it shouldn’t be too hard to learn about, understand, and use all formats. But learn them you must, because PDF is essential to running your publishing business, and EPUB and MOBI (Kindle) is becoming the standard format for ebooks within the publishing industry.

About Joseph C. Kunz, Jr.

I am an author, husband, father of twins, grandfather, and small business owner near New York City. I created this website to share my self-publishing and small-business adventures and insights.
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