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Format Comparison: PDF, EPUB, and Mobi Downloads from Ebook Bundles

We’ve been selling PDFs of our books on oreilly.com for several years, but this summer began selling “ebook bundles” of many titles, which include PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket versions. Here’s some weekly data (I can’t share the vertical scale) on the relative breakdown of actual downloads from those bundles (PDF, Mobi, and EPUB are Light, Medium, and Dark respectively). PDF is still the format of choice for most people, though EPUB is getting respectable usage, with Mobi in third:

The numbers at the bottom are weeks (200901 is the first week of 2009). This is only among titles offered in all three formats — the majority of our ebooks are currently still only available as PDF, though we expect to release several hundred more in bundle form over the next few months (not that you should wait to buy of course — you’ll get all the formats as they come available …).

An important point to note, via Allen Noren, our VP who runs oreilly.com, is that a substantial portion of our electronic sales come from overseas, where getting a print version is often difficult or cost-prohibitive:

I know you’ve heard me say it before, but we became an international publisher, in a way we were not previously, when we started selling books in digital format. We’re in a unique position vs most publishers, who only have US or NA rights, but it’s worth nothing.

Duly noted.

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Comments: 11

  1. the popularity of .pdf is no surprise to people
    who have followed the electronic-book world.
    every e-book site reports that that’s the case.

    i don’t think very much of the .epub format.
    (as you might have already gleaned by now.)

    but in a contest between .pdf and mobipocket,
    i would choose .epub over either one of those,
    because it’s a much easier format to repurpose.

    once you unzip an .epub, you’ve got .xml+.css,
    and thus access to the formatted and styled text.

    so it’s no wonder .epub is gaining in downloads.

    (although there is a rich comic irony that the rise
    in .epub downloads is undoubtedly due to stanza,
    a program that strips all the formatting and styling
    from the file and displays it in a bare-bones state.
    one wonders how long the novelty of that will last.)

    but if you offered your e-books instead as .html
    — especially without chopping them into pieces,
    which seems to be “necessary” with .epub files —
    i bet you’d find that to be the most popular format.

    e-book people have had to learn to do conversions,
    so they appreciate the format that makes ’em easy;
    these days, the rosetta stone continues to be .html.


  2. The challenge with offering HTML is that you need to figure out what to do with the file structure and images (plenty of opinions of how to chunk — one big file? break into chapters? sections?). I’m not suggesting EPUB is perfect by any means, but it packages up the HTML in a reasonable way. Putting EPUB into Bookworm is a nice way to get at the HTML content (via browser and mobile) w/o needing to manually manage the unzipping.

  3. andrew said:
    > The challenge with offering HTML is that
    > you need to figure out what to do with the file structure
    > and images (plenty of opinions of how to chunk —
    > one big file? break into chapters? sections?).

    i believe we need a master-format that allows the _users_
    to decide how to “chunk” the file, for their own purposes…

    _and_ lets ’em customize output to their own preferences —
    concerning fonts, sizes, colors, leading, margins, and so on
    — plus the _nature_ of that output (e.g., kindle, pdf, etc.)…

    that’s the type of capability my format will be offering them.
    so if your format cannot do the same, why should i adopt it?

    > I’m not suggesting EPUB is perfect by any means,
    > but it packages up the HTML in a reasonable way.

    um, am i missing something here? .epub _zips_ the files;
    that’s not some mystic process you couldn’t do otherwise.

    the “manifest” file is equally unnecessary, since you _can_
    put the links among the various files right into the .html…

    (indeed, the absence of all these inter-file links is a huge
    shortcoming when a person does repurpose an .epub file.)


  4. There’s nothing about ePub as a specification that dictates how the content should be chunked. You can stick all of Proust in a single XHTML 1.1 file and still produce a valid ePub.

    There are implementations which limit individual viewable chunks to Bookworm imposes no limitations at all on file size, but if you try to read a 10M text file in a web browser you are going to be pretty sad about it.

  5. liza, you seem to be saying it’s not the fault of the _format_,
    but rather the _implementations_. but then you report that
    it’s a “reality” that “limited memory/bandwidth” is to blame.

    sounds confusing… fingers pointing every which way…

    what is _not_ confusing is that adobe recommends that
    anyone creating .epub for its viewer-program chop it up.

    i think we should design our format such that even devices
    which are limited in memory or bandwidth are still able to
    handle even books as large as — for example — 4 megs
    (which is the size of the king james bible over at p.g.)…

    all _without_ any “human” having to make _any_ decisions.


  6. The general rule goes like this:

    ePub == NOVELS.

    PDF == Tech books. Yes, this means code snippets, embedded photos, diagrams you don’t want changed, etc

    The big difference between ePub and PDF is reflow capability. An ePub reflows much nicer — providing for different fonts, different sizes, etc. PDF’s don’t reflow so well, but they’re better for tech books, flight manuals, programming books, etc because of the image/diagram support.

  7. I just bought a book “learning Python” 4th Edition covers python 2.6 and 3.x from amazon and I already register with this book. I am trying to find out why can I download a PDF format so I read it on my laptop. Can you tell me what link that I can go and download the PDF format, so I don’t have to carry this heavy book with me?

  8. I recently grabbed a Nook and now I’m 1
    week in and I think I’m going to trade it in for an iPad… Mainly because the
    bulk of the books I’ve purchased from sitepoint are technical (those code
    snippets are vital, and sometimes images.) Whether you want to ready your
    PDF eBooks on a Sony Reader, Kindle, netbook or Smartphone, your books will now
    be more accessible than ever. And with thousands of free PDF eBooks out
    there, you’ll be sure to always have something to read. http://www.vibosoft.com/ebook/convert-pdf-to-epub-mac-windows.html

  9. Here is a free ebook tool for you.

    You can easily convert your ebook from epub to pdf,epub to mobi, epub to kindle, etc.

    Free Online Converter / EPUB Converter


    It provides you with the best mobi to epub converting experience.

  10. eBooks are the way to go forward. Still Print books covers a good market share, but eventually Publishers are going to get more revenue through eBooks. Creating eBooks for your print content is also not very expensive.


  11. Really – What is available in EPUB that isn’t available in Mobi? When I look at the books available for Nooks, Sony Readers, etc, which read EPUB, I find the same titles available for both. So-aside from being able to borrow from libraries which stock EPUB items-what is the attraction of EPUB? http://www.coolmuster.com/epub/mobi-to-epub.html