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Entry updated 13 July 2016. Tagged: Theme.

An electronic book, normally written as in this encyclopedia as ebook (but as Ebook when linking to this entry). The term is generally used to describe both the hardware – typically a device about the size of a small paper book, with a screen for reading and controls; in appearance similar to a sophisticated cell phone – and any text which has been downloaded into the device. The only slowly increasing popularity of the ebook has been governed by various difficulties which are likely to diminish over time: high cost; poor visual definition (new e-ink technologies seem to be solving this problem); inconvenience of use; small repertory of texts. The last of these early problems has been solved by an explosion of ebook production in the new century; however, since the ebook lends itself all too easily to self-publication by writers lacking editorial skills, the quality of text and presentation may vary wildly.

The advantages of the ebook are clear: interactive features such as hyperlinks, internet access; increasing capacity (ebooks can store an increasingly large number of individual full-length texts) and portability. As was the case with video, CD and DVD, however, the various ebook manufacturers have proven reluctant to standardize their formats; several proprietary file formats continue to vie for market space. These include Epub (the most compact), Mobi and the Amazon Kindle's proprietary "AZW3" format, which confusingly cannot be read on older Kindle devices (these however normally support Mobi); all allow reflowable text independent of device screen size. Adobe's older-established Adobe PDF or Portable Document Format is also widely used, but its fixed – non-reflowable – page size requires careful tailoring and customization for ease of reading on smaller screens.

A further problem is security. Digital rights management (DRM) has proven to be a ticklish issue: ebook systems have been put on the market with restrictions on the number of copies that can be made from one ebook text issue; and some firms have experimented with ebook systems which delete content after a fixed period, so that users effectively rent content rather than (as with paper books) own it. Restrictive practices of this sort are thought unlikely to survive in the long term, though they are fiercely defended by many major publishers: exceptions here include Baen Books and Tor Books. One of the most prolific and high-profile advocates of DRM-free content – both for text and other media – is Cory Doctorow.

In this encyclopedia, we use the term in the structure of ascriptions which have been designed over the past decades to give users some sense of both internal and external features of each book ascribed within the body of entries (see Editorial Practices, "Ascription data", for extended exposition of the practical and theoretical issues involved). The term ebook is used here specifically and solely to indicate a text whose initial release has been in ebook format; we continue to treat the hardcopy issue of a text as primary in those cases where more than one format has been simultaneously issued, and do not in such cases indicate that the text has also been issued in ebook format; it follows from this that we do not list any ebook issue subsequent to initial release, except in those cases where the ebook release incorporates a title change or significant textual revisions. In ascriptions within the main text of an entry, ebooks are signalled immediately after the boldface date of publication in the slot where other physical attributes – such as chap and dos – are inscribed: for example, The Cycloids of Tantalus (2014 ebook). Likewise, ebook appears in the position occupied by chap or dos in Checklist comment fields. In this encyclopedia, book ascriptions have an obvious and inherent historical function; ebook designations (like all other designations incorporated into our ascription practice) are permanent records of first release. An ebook designation will not be removed, in other words, if a manufacturer has deleted it. [JC/DRL]

see also: Hypertext.

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