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Why eBooks? Benefits and pitfalls

In one sense, a website is an eBook, and the Web is one huge library of interlocking eBooks. Basically, an eBook is a way of presenting a collection of information electronically, with the added power of linking documents and collections of documents through hypertext links.

The liberating power of the Web is that documents can be viewed across a whole range of computer platforms, from mainframes to mobile phones. The disadvantage of the Web is that to view the documents you have to be "online". To many people, this means connecting and paying over a telephone line.

Benefits of eBooks

  • Once downloaded (from the Web, a CD ROM or a floppy disk), eBooks can be viewed whilst offline (although some external links will only work when you are online).
  • Unlike websites, they can be easily distributed to other users
  • Unlike standalone documents, such as a Word or Excel file, eBooks can contain a variety of documents and files, all conveniently packaged in a single file.
  • Unlike paper-based books, eBooks can be easily updated. A eBook can even have a link to a website which contains the latest downloadable version of the book.
  • The production cost of eBooks is minimal, a big benefit of you are distributing them in any quantity, either free or for a price.
  • If you need security, eBooks can be compiled so as to disable printing, can be password protected and can prevent individual files from being copied (although no-one has found a way of preventing anything from being re-typed!)

Disadvantages of eBooks

  • Unlike websites, many eBooks require the reader to have a particular combination of software and hardware. Many eBook compiler programs produce books which can only be viewed on a PC / Windows platform, thus eliminating Apple Mac users. Some require a particular version of MS Internet Explorer to be installed (typically version 4 and upwards). This is not a major disadvantage, since most people can comply with these requirements.
  • One exception is the Adobe Acrobat (.PDF) format. You do need special software - Adobe Acrobat Reader - which is available free of charge for both PC and Mac platforms. But is it a big (7 Mb) download, and there are production disadvantages (see the Software page for more details).
  • Producing an eBook involves one more job in addition to producing, say, a collection of Word documents or web pages. But eBook software is usually quick and easy to use. More of this in the Preparing and Compiling pages.

As with all technologies, it is important that eBooks are used appropriately, and that their limitations are understood. But even more important with a technology is to understand their power and what they are capable of doing. Ebooks are still in a relatively primitive form. But watch this space!

Carefully crafted by of Traynor Kitching & Associates