Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of ebook publishing and the different ebook formats in this basic ebook publishing guide 

Ebook publishing is the new buzz word. But what is an ebook? It is a document that has been formatted for easy reading, converted into specific electronic formats, and then made available online. You, the user, download the ebook off the Internet and use software on your computer, or a hand-held device, to view and read the electronic file. Until recently, ebooks shared a bad reputation with self-publishing, but that has changed. This is because the way the world communicates has changed – many interactions nowadays are electronic. But why would you want an ebook rather than a printed book? Printed books are surely easier on the eye and far more comfortable to read in bed! In this article we offer a quick guide to ebook publishing and look at the advantages and disadvantages of going this route.

Advantages of ebooks

For readers, ebooks have these benefits over printed books –

  • They’re cheaper to buy
  • They’re quick to download, with delivery in most cases being instantaneous
  • They take very little computer space to store
  • They have a search function, which makes them easy to navigate when looking for particular information
  • They are mobile – wherever your mobile device is, there are your ebooks
  • If you like the ebook, you can buy the more expensive printed version
  • If you don’t like the ebook, you know you won’t like the printed version
  • Due to the lower cost of ebooks, there’s less financial loss if you buy a book that doesn’t meet your standards

For authors, ebooks have these benefits over printed books –

  • They’re cheaper to publish
  • The royalties are higher
  • Sales and marketing are Internet based, which is cheaper
  • They’re easier to distribute
  • International distribution is much easier and more accessible than for printed books
  • You can test the market before investing in an expensive print run
  • The reading public is becoming very comfortable with reading electronic material
  • You can more easily protect the copying and distribution of your ebook with Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Disadvantages of ebooks

For readers, ebooks have these disadvantages over printed books –

  • Ebooks can be disappointing because any author can publish their own ebook cheaply and easily, resulting in poor editorial quality
  • Text formatting is often substandard, for the same reason above, making for a compromised reading experience
  • The reflowable nature of most ebook formats makes book formatting difficult and this can impact on the reader experience
  • It’s harder to share ebooks with friends and family due to DRM
  • E-reading devices need power to operate; no power, no reading
  • With reflowable format non-fiction, it’s hard to gain a sense of priority or hierarchy of information

For authors, ebooks have these disadvantages over printed books –

  • Layout and formatting options are very limited for standard ebook formats – the most common formats are best-suited to text-only books such as fiction and simple non-fiction
  • Ebooks requiring specific formatting, such as cookbooks and educational books, can be costly to produce and have limited distribution channels
  • Ebooks are still not popular everywhere and certain areas or communities still prefer printed books
  • Purchasing ebooks through global retailers requires an account and a credit card linked with those retailers – not all customers have access to the internet or a credit card for online shopping
  • Ebooks sold through your own website will not have DRM – so customers could easily distribute the ebook via email or copying


There are a number of ebook formats out there, some that require specialized software and others that require special devices known as e-readers. However, most ebook suppliers offer their ebooks in a range of formats so you can choose the format that best suits your circumstances and electronic devices.

For those of us who go for the vanilla approach to technology, there are four formats that are easy enough to use on all kinds of computers –

PDF – this is the format used for Adobe Reader developed and supported by Adobe. The Adobe Reader is free and easy to install. A download link is included at the bottom of this page to download your own version of Adobe Reader. PDF format preserves the layout of your document and is recommended for books in which layout, formatting and design features are important. PDF format is supported on all computers, tablet devices, and certain e-readers such as the Kindle Fire. Unfortunately, DRM for PDF is limited so PDFs remain largely unprotected unless you’re willing to password-lock the file. Password protecting is not recommended because if a purchaser loses the password, they will not be able to open the PDF. If your book has been properly formatted, the PDF costs next-to-nothing to create. Your files for printing can also asily be adapted for ebook PDF at minimal cost.

EPUB – this is an open-source ebook format that can be used on mobile devices like laptops and mobile readers or in a web browser. EPub reading software has been created for desktop computers and tablet devices as well, which makes this format very versatile. Because the text in an ePub reflows to accommodate the e-reader and its screen size, these books work best when simple single-column formatting is used and images are kept to a minimum. Some of the most popular devices that support ePub formats include Kobo eReader, Blackberry Playbook, Apple iBook, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony Reader, and more. ePub can support colour. You can download free software for reading epub ebooks on non-dedicated ebook devices from Adobe Digital Editions (Africa) and the Google Play Store or Apple’s App/iTunes store. Or you can download an e-reader from http://calibre-ebook.com. If you have a retailer-specific device, for example an iPhone or iPad (Apple) or Nook Reader (Barnes and Noble), the ebooks are automatically delivered to your device when purchased. Other retailers have created apps that do the same, such as Takealot.com. When you purchase an ebook from Takealot, you need to download their app to your device, and the ebook will be delivered to that app.

EPUB (Fixed layout) – this is an ePub that retains the layout of your document or print edition. It is the format used for full colour design-based books such as coffee table books, magazines, educational books, children’s books, and cookery books. It is the format most closely resembling your actual print edition (apart from PDF) and offers authors the option of integrating video, sound clips, and more. Unfortunately, distribution for fixed layout ePubs is very limited. Apple’s iBookstore sells fixed layout ePub.

AZW, & MOBI (Kindle), KF8 (Kindle Fire) – these formats are used by Amazon’s proprietary Kindle readers. Because the text reflows to accommodate the e-reader and its screen size, these books work best when simple formatting is used and images are kept to a minimum. The new generation Kindle devices, such as Kindle Fire, can also accommodate colour and document formatting/layout. You can download free software for viewing Kindle ebooks on non-dedicated ebook devices (Kindle for PCKindle for Mac), or visit the Google Play Store or Apple’s App/iTunes store. Kindle books purchased through Amazon are delivered directly to your Kindle reader, and also to your smartphone, tablet, and computer via the Kindle app – you just need to register your devices on the Amazon store.

HTML – this is the format used on web pages, so all Internet browsers are designed to read this format. It can be cumbersome if not properly prepared by the supplier and you could end up trying to navigate your way through a single page of text that never seems to reach the end! This format is not commonly used.


The author owns the copyright of their ebook. In South Africa there is nothing you need to do to assert your copyright except prove that you own the earliest existing copy of your ebook and its content.

Self-publishing and author-assist companies work differently. In all cases, you retain copyright to your original work. However, you would be wise to check with your provider what happens if they convert the file and make it available for international distribution on your behalf. If you choose to republish elsewhere, will they give you the ebook files they created? And in whose name are the accounts set up? You will need to assess whether full autonomy is important to you. If so, you’d do well to find a service provider who opens all accounts in your name and gives you free access to your ebook files. Quickfox Publishing is one such company.

Where to get help

If you would like to turn your book or manuscript into an ebook and require more information or would like a price for doing so, download our ebook package information.


GET THE ADVICE YOU NEED Book your publishing consultation today

OBTAIN AN EDITING QUOTE Get your manuscript into tip-top shape

And improve your chances of success