What is the difference between a print book and an ebook?

Here is an explanation of Ebook Launch’s terminology with regard to books, print books, and ebooks:

Whenever Ebook Launch uses the term “book” in the general sense, we may be referring to either a print book or an ebook. When we refer to a “print book”, we are specifically talking about a physical book, printed on paper. When we refer to an “ebook”, we are talking about the digital or electronic version of a book, which is viewed on an electronic device.

Most print books and ebooks use similar conventions, such as a cover page, title page, copyright page, table of contents, chapters, and paragraphs. However, there are some notable differences between print books and ebooks - especially when considering ebook formatting and print book formatting: 

  • Layout: Print books have a fixed layout that you can control, and does not change after printing. Ebooks have a reflowable layout that appears different depending on the device, application, or user settings used to view the ebook. Reflowable formatting refers to the text's ability to "flow" or automatically wrap words in a document to the next line as the settings change. This flexibility of ebooks allows each reader to enjoy the ebook according to their own preferences, on their own device or application.  
  • Page numbers: Since ebook text "flows" to adjust to the size of the screen and user settings, an ebook does not have set pages or page numbers, as in a print book. Therefore, the reader cannot use page numbers as a means of navigating and referencing locations within the ebook through the table of contents or index. Instead, ebooks have a table of contents that is hyperlinked to the individual chapters and/or sections of the book. And instead of the index, users use the device or application’s search function to locate specific words or phrases within the text.
  • Headers and footers: As there are no set pages or page numbers in ebooks, they do not have headers or footers. 
  • Endnotes: Again, as there are no set pages in ebooks, footnotes found in a print book, become endnotes within the ebook. 
  • Images: To ensure predictability of placement, images are in line with the text and centered. And as most devices do not accept charts, tables, and columns at this time, these are converted into images and formatted accordingly.

In an ebook, depending on the ereader app or device, the reader can set the following preferences:

  • font type
  • font size
  • page width
  • hyphenation
  • text alignment
  • color mode

The following are some examples of preference setting for the Kindle for Mac/PC (these also demonstrate reflowable text and the dynamic nature of ebooks):

The Preference selection can be accessed by click on the "Aa" button:

Font Type

Font Size Small

Font Size Medium

Font Size Large

Page Width Narrow

Page Width Medium

Page Width Wide

Readers also have the use of the ereader's Search function to navigate the book:

The following is a quote from the Smashwords Style Guide:

How Ebook Formatting is Different from Print Formatting

Ebooks are different from print books, so do not attempt to make your ebook look like an exact facsimile of print book, otherwise, you’ll only frustrate yourself by creating a poorly formatted, unreadable ebook.

With print, you control the layout. The words appear on the printed page exactly where you want them to appear.

With ebooks, there is no “page.” By giving up the control of the printed page, you and your readers gain much more in return.

Page numbers are irrelevant. Your book will look different on every e-reading device. Your text will shape shift and reflow. Most e-reading devices and e-reading applications allow your reader to customize the fonts, font sizes, and line spacing. Your customers will modify how your book looks on-screen to suit their personal reading preference and environment.
By transforming your books into digital form, you open up exciting possibilities for how readers can enjoy them.

At Smashwords, our motto is “your book, your way,” and this means a reader should be able to consume your book, however, works best for them, even if that means they like to read 18 point Helvetica with blue fonts, lime background color, and triple spaced lines. Many e-reading devices and e-reading apps support some or all of these strange, different tastes.

For us to prepare your words to be stirred up and reconstituted in this digital soup, it’s important your Smashwords source file is formatted to liberate the words in digital form.

The book’s formatting will be and must be different from its paper-based formatting and layout (for some works like poetry, the formatting is integral to the reading experience, and we can work with that too).

Most readers want your words, not your fancy page layout or exotic type styles. This is especially important for your ebook customers because you want your work to display well on as many digital reading devices as possible so the reader can have their book their way. Some of your buyers may want to read on the Amazon Kindle; others may prefer to read on the iPhone or Sony Reader, or even read on multiple devices. Others may want to just read it on screen using one of the several e-reading applications, such as Adobe Digital Editions or FBReader.

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