Indie News: The Format Wars

So you want to self-publish for the New Year. After you write the manuscript and edit the story, after you pick the cover and start the promotions, before you publish you've got to format. And since there are so many different ebook formats, you're going to be doing that for a while. The format wars are on, indie authors...and ereaders are going to make DVD vs. Blu-Ray look like child's play.

How Do I Read Thee? Let Me Count the Ways...

Simply going through the list of available ebook formats is completely exhausting. Among your main formats, you've got two that stand out: ePub and Mobi. These are the formats used by the Nook and the Kindle, respectively. Some evidence suggests that ePub is the most widely-used format across all types of ereaders, but all the numbers show that Amazon sells more ebooks than anyone.

And as an indie author, you want to appeal to the widest possible audience. So you format your books for both file types. But if you really want to spread the love, you're going to have to change your novel for a lot of other formats as well. 

  • If you're going to start with one format, make it HTML. These files can be converted easily into mobi, ePub, and other types of ebook formats.
  • The Archos Reader uses the .aeh format, based on XML, to read books. The Archor Player also supports PDF file types. Among other XML based formats, you've got DAISY and FictionBook, which is used by a variety of ereaders.
  • Sony devices use the BBeB format, or Broadband eBooks. The extension is either .lrf or .lrx, and it's a proprietary file type. This means only Sony devices can read it, though you can find conversion products that will reformat the files.
  • Want your book to be available on smartphones? You may want to convert it into Palm Media, or .pdb, files. Palm readers can be used on iPhones, Android, Blackberry and Windows devices. Barnes & Noble was originally supposed to use this file type for their ebooks, but switched to ePub after making the announcement
  • Convert your books to iBook format so they can be read on Apple devices easily. Thankfully, the iBooks Author software is free. Go to Apple to get it, and start converting.

The worst part? This is just a small sampling of the various ebook formats that are out there. There are so many different devices, so much software, so many options it has gotten absolutely out of control. Any indie author could easily drive themselves crazy trying to keep up with the format wars. Instead of making yourself nuts, try distributing your books through all the biggest ebook publishers and through sites that offer ebooks across a wide variety of formats. Smashwords and Kobo, for instance, both offer ebooks in multiple file types. 

Eventually, one hopes, one standard format will begin to stand out above the rest and become "the norm" in ebook publishing. Otherwise, indie authors are always going to struggle to keep up with the latest technology...and that's no good for anyone. If indie authors eventually lose the format wars, so does everyone else.

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  1. I've had no problem loading Word docs at Kindle, Nook and Lulu for paper versions as well as e-books. What's the benefit of loading in a format that the Word doc will be converted to?

  2. Good question, Beth! When you format it yourself you have more control over the final look, and it allows you to add extra elements (such as a Table of Contents or images).