Apple iPad and EPUB Books

It’s been a few weeks now since the Apple iPad announcement; a 9.7-inch multi-purpose tablet with native Book, Magazine and Newspaper options. Although Apple hasn’t released this as a dedicated eBook reader or as a direct competitor to popular eReaders such as the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, in essence, it is an eReader nonetheless.

So, the iPad is an eReader, and one that reads not only books and newspapers but web pages, emails and numerous other electronic documents. It can also do the stuff that an iPhone and iPod Touch can do – running thousands of third party applications from the iTunes App store. For this article though I’d like to focus on the book aspects, especially in relation to the EPUB eBook format.

There were rumours abound weeks before Apple’s announcement that they’d been discussing with publishers and newspapers to get their content for a new Apple device. Most of this content will be accessible from the upcoming Apple iBooks Store and there should be plenty to choose from as Apple have brought onboard big names such as Penguin, HarperCollins and Macmillan.

The new iBooks store will be integrated in true iTunes style and with a 3G iPad option; you won’t even have to worry about logging into Wi-Fi hotspots.

From what’s shown in the videos circulating the internet, the iBooks application seems to have typical viewing options (font sizes) and also that life-like page turn feature, though to be honest I still can’t figure out why this kind of gimmick is considered so cool. That whole drag a page, swipe your finger (Sony Touch) feature is fun for the first 10 minutes but quite frankly, I don’t sit there when reading a paper book being thrilled at the ingenuity of how a paper page turns, so why should it be any different with an eBook. Just let me tap the screen/press a button and give me the next page by the time I get my eyes to the top of the screen, thankyouverymuch.

People have talked about the iPad as being a game changer or an E-Ink Killer (Kindle/Sony). Well, I’m not sure any of the current E-Ink developers believed they’d reached the pinnacle of electronic mobile reading – E-Ink eReaders were always going to evolve and become more multi-purpose – but there are still advantages of these over the iPad with power consumption and reading longevity being two.

E-Ink is extremely low power and thus allows usage of up to two weeks before a recharge is needed. Also, sitting for hours on end with no interruptions from IM’s and incoming email, plus a very paper like screen, are very pleasant experiences I can assure you.

We’ll have to wait until its released before we know the exact power consumption, but the iPad will probably give around ten hours of play, and that’s highly likely with anything and everything turned off and maybe even a low backlit screen.

Okay, so this isn’t an iPad review and much of what I’ve said here is all personal preference anyway. I guess the real question you want form me is;

Does the iPad Support EPUB eBooks?

The quick answer is, yes.

The longer answer would also be yes, but there might well be some caveats here.

The Apple iPad native eBook format is EPUB; Steve Jobs said this himself at the announcement in San Francisco. This of course makes sense as many, if not most publishers have been working toward creating their content in this format, thankfully Apple haven’t forced the providers to come up with yet another format.

EPUB is lucky in some respects; it came about at a time when eBooks was just starting to become more main stream and this gave publishers the ability to focus [mostly] on just one eBook format. Beneficial for them and the end user.

It seems that there are really two questions regarding the iPad and the EPUB format.

One. What kind of DRM will it have?

The iPad EPUB eBooks will have DRM and it certainly won’t be the Adobe flavour. A recent announcement says that Apple is dusting off their old Fair Play DRM that was used for music in their iTunes stores up until just a year or so ago. This means you’ll not be able to use these books on other eReaders – you buy from Apple, you use on Apple – at least that’s the way it seems at the moment. Once the iPad is out there, perhaps we’ll see some solutions to get around that.

I should note that I don’t know enough on Apple’s Fair Play DRM to know if other vendors can implement it or whether this will affect their ability to use the Adobe DRM side-by-side with Apple’s.

Perhaps in the long term Apple will turn out to be instrumental in getting DRM off eBooks completely and a couple of years or three down the line this issue won’t matter any more. We can but hope.

Two. Can you Download or Buy from Sources other than the iBooks Store?

Will I be able to browse the website, click the download button and have my books open in the iBooks reading application?

This is a really big question and one which is still open. My gut feeling is that the answer will be no.

I’ve yet to hear if Apple will allow competing eBook apps to be ported to the iPad. Perhaps the eReader developers themselves know that answer, but the Apple TC’s will forbid them to talk, so everything is hush hush for the moment.

If apps such as Stanza are allowed onto the iPad then I think all the above questions will be answered in a positive light.

The iPad will be out there in a couple of months so then we’ll know for certain the future of reading with the Apple iPad.

[UPDATE: EPUBs from can now be added to iBooks and there are now plenty of other Reading apps for you to use. You can read more about this over on my Apple iPad review page.]

Apple iPad: Quick Facts

  • Released Date: Late March 2010 and April 2010 for 3G option
  • Price: Currently $499 for the 16GB model
  • Memory: 16/32/64GB
  • Multi-Touch 9.7 inch screen (1024×768)
  • iBooks Store for books, magazines and newspapers
    • EPUB book format
    • Apple Fair Play DRM
  • Various other electronic content
    • Video, Music, Games
    • Untold apps providing eMail, Calendars, Maps, Photos, etc.
  • Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
  • Pre-paid, no-contract, unlocked 3G connectivity (optional upgrade)
  • External Keyboard Dock
    • Apple or other standard Bluetooth keyboards
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39 thoughts on “Apple iPad and EPUB Books”

  1. >>>I don’t know enough about Apple’s Fair Play DRM to know if other vendors can implement it or whether this will affect their ability to use the Adobe DRM side-by-side with Apple’s.

    FairPlay is not licensed to anyone. Apple has always refused to do so, citing security reasons. No, Adobe DRMed ePub will not work on the iPad (hey, Sony ePub won’t work on B&N Nook, due to different Adobe DRM!).

    Yes, you will be able to buy elsewhere — but to your desktop and sync over. It’s still an open question if Apple will permit Kindle, Stanza, et al, on the iPad, although Kobo claims it has already ported its reading app over.

    ePub eBooks From Apple Will Use FairPlay DRM

  2. Just because page-flip animation is eye-candy doesn’t mean it lacks nutritional value. The flip lets you see whether you’re moving forward or backward in the book; a simple refresh doesn’t do that. It also makes it more obvious that the page HAS been turned and that your screen-tap registered. I’ve used eReaders that let you choose whether to animate page turns or not, and I much prefer to see the page turning.

  3. The iPad does NOT have a native ebook format. It DOES NOT come with iBook!

    iBook is just another App. One has to download iBook from the App Store, just as one has to download Kindle, Stanza, Barnes & Noble, Courseware, BookZ, iSilo, NeoReader and other eBook Readers.

    What makes the iPad unique is that you have a CHOICE of eBook readers. You can use ALL OF THEM. You are NOT limited to only on eBook reading app.

    Many people can’t think out of the box and realize the iPad can read ANY ePub book with ANY DRM by simply using the app that reads that particular book. One isn’t limited to iBook. One can all the others!

    What also makes the iPad unique is that because the eBook readers are apps, they can be UPGRADED at any time by their developers. Thus, new features can be added without having to purchase new hardware.

    DRM is also not a problem. The iPad uses ALL DRM books. It also uses ALL NON-DRM books. All you have to do is download the reader for the specific DRM the book has.

    If one wants to read books from the iBook Store, then use the iBook app.
    If one wants to read books from the Kindle store, then use the Kindle app.
    If one wants to read books from, then use the Stanza app.
    If one wants to read Palm.doc books, then use the iSilo app.
    etc., etc., etc., etc.

    The iPad FREES the consumer from having to consider DRM since it can use ANY DRM and ANY Non-DRM format as well.

    eBooks that can be read on the iPad include:
    1. Fairplay DRM ePub books from iBooks app
    2. Adobe DRM ePub books using Stanza app
    3. Adobe DRM ePub books using the Barnes & Noble app
    4. Kindle DRM books using the Kindle app
    5. Courseware DRM books using the Courseware app
    6. Fairplay DRM Book Apps – from the app store (this allows books that cost $300 or more dollars, freeing the publisher to set any price for their books).
    7. iSilo books
    8. Palm doc books
    9. PDF books
    10. Microsoft Word .doc books
    11. Plain Text books.

    etc. etc.

    The iPad means FREEDOM from having to worry about DRM, and FREEDOM to purchase eBooks from any vendor. You cannot do this with any other eBook reading platform.

    The iPad also then has THE LARGEST catalog of eBooks available to it since one can purchase or download from nearly any vendor or source.


  4. And if you want to press a button to go to the next page, rather than swipe the page to turn, then all you have to do is to choose what format the book comes in and use the app that has the button.

    For example, the Kindle app uses buttons, the iBook app uses a swipe gesture to turn the page. Both sell the same books. Thus choose the Kindle book to read using buttons.

    The iPad makes it easy. You have CHOICE.

  5. >>>The iPad does NOT have a native ebook format. It DOES NOT come with iBook!

    Katt is correct that the iBooks app is not in the firmware of the iPad, which is why it’d be shocking for Apple to prevent other current eBook software on it.

    And the reason why iBooks isn’t in firmwware is because Jobs despises ePub. Apple wants better:

    Apple Will Break Open The Digital Book Floodgates

  6. Hi MCohen. The page turn style is very much down to personal preference but I’ve tried several; scrolling on a PDA, button pressing on an E-Ink reader and the swipe of the Sony Touch Edition, at the end of the day the best for me is the regular button/tap.

    @James. The iPhone, iPod Touch and now the iPad are all based on applications; mail, calendar, music, etc., and these are all native Apple applications. As iBooks is also an Apple application this in my eyes makes the format it uses as the Apple native eBook format. As Mike Cane also points out, we don’t yet know if Apple will allow all these other eBook readers apps onto the iPad. It would certainly be great if they did.

  7. @Mike Cane. And how do you know the reason iBooks isn’t firmware is cause Jobs despises ePub? It might be as simple as because it is an app it can be updated early and often. Why the hate?

  8. You do not have to fear:

    The other eBook Apps are ALREADY available in the App Store. Apple has already allowed them in.

    The iPhone and iPod Touch have MORE Stanza users than there are Kindle Users. Thus, combined with all the other eBook readers available, the iPhone and iPod Touch are the most popular eBook readers in the world already.

    The iPad can already use the Kindle App, the Barnes and Noble App, Stanza, etc. They are as easy to obtain as the iBook App.

    Any iPhone and iPod Touch user who uses these other eBook reader apps will, of course, simply upload them to the iPad because they already have the reader app in their iTunes collection.

    So you do not have to fear. Apple will NOT be descriminating against these other eBook readers. It already allows them. They have been present even before there was an iPad. And they are already in use by millions of Apple’s customers.

    Realize that the iBook app cannot be used by every publisher.

    Technical and Textbook publishers, for example, will obviously use other readers since their books are expensive to produce and make huge profits. They commonly sell for $100 or more. Apple already allows them in the iTunes store. For example, Courseware has its own app to sell and read these expensive textbooks. And Medical Book apps selling for $300 are already present in the iTunes store.

  9. Lots of bold assertions here… can someone provide an authoritative source that the iBook app won’t come pre-installed? I’d be really, truly surprised if it weren’t on the iPad from the get-go with an easy link from it to the iBook store.

    Also, could someone offer some clarification? How can Jobs be anti-ePub when that’s the format that iBooks will use? :-)

    As to page turning, the better ereader apps give you multiple options: whether page turning is by swipe or tap– and whether it is animated or not. So, it’s not a matter of one app or another, but whether to choose eReader or Stanza! :-)

    While I agree 100% with the author here that the page flipping animation gets old fast, others like it. Even thought I don’t use animation, I was impressed with how smoothly curling the page back and forth worked and how wonderfully rendered the page was below! That’s Apple’s incredible attention to details (some other apps have tried that but it’s herky-jerky).

    Appreciate the thoughtful article that produced this thread.

  10. I’ve been waiting for the same clarification myself Robinson, and not surprisingly no one can really provide it. It has been shown before that we can’t take what Steve Jobs says as any indication of his real thoughts. Remember this;

    “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore…the whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

    …and here we are with an Apple device with lots of emphasis on book reading.

    It’ll be surprising for sure if the iPad doesn’t come with iBooks pre-installed.

  11. You missed one important spec on the iPad, the weight. At 2-3 times the weight of competing formats for ebook reading (Kindle, Sony reader) this has to be another apple toy and not a serious ebook tool. The other big killer will be battery life. There is just no way the iPad will be able to provide the sort of charge to charge time required by serious users.

    But I have no doubt it will sell given all the hype.

  12. No one can say for sure whether the iBooks app will be part of the default iPad Home screen, but the iPad Features page says this:

    “Download the free [iBooks] app from the App Store and buy everything from classics to best sellers from the built-in iBookstore.”

  13. Thanks for your thoughts on the iPad as a eBook reader…

    I’ve been using a PRS-300 (sony) for some time, and love it’s compact size as it fits easily in any bag I carry around or even a large cargo pant pocket or jacket,inside pocket.

    Also I’ve been quite an apple user, owning a fair amount of their hardware and the iPhone.
    Thus naturally I am interested in the iPad.
    But I just can’t imagine why this would be a good reader for eBooks.
    PDFs yes – amazing, or basically any document with a lot of high end graphics, formatting, etc inside – lovely.
    But to read books on a non eInk Display? thanks no. I don’t know, but as long as there’s backlight and refresh rates, there will be a serious eye strain coming along with it, if used to read books.
    Battery life is the other issue at hand..

  14. I am a little confused about how you will load the books into the Ipad. On the Apple website it says:

    “And you can add free ePub titles to iTunes and sync them to the iBooks app on your iPad.”

    Ok, that sounds great, but how do you actually add the free titles to iTunes? I could not find anywhere on itunes that allows you to import ebooks. Am I missing something? Is this a future feature that hasn’t been implemented yet? Does it mean you have to do it through the itunes/ibooks app that is on the ipad?

    If anyone has had success figuring it out, please share with us!

    Eric, you had concern about battery life of the Ipad. It is my understanding it has 10 hour battery life, so that should not be such an issue.


  15. Based entirely on what I would do if I were calling the shots on the iPad and on no actual knowledge of plans by Apple, I expect something analogous to the CD ripping capability of iTunes. For example, I have a bunch of unprotected, free, Stanza books and I expect to be able to bless them with iTunes and use them with the iPad reader. Perhaps I will be disappointed. I don’t expect to be too disappointed, because this market promises to be far more competitive than the MP3 player and smart phone markets. Someone will do this right.

  16. The biggest danger here is the POTENTIAL for causing grief to the user community. Whether they implement the constraints immediately or later, they will almost certainly implement them eventually. The combined drivers of profit motive, the threat of legal action from content providers, and the raging thirst for a competitive edge from the ebook sellers (Amazon, B&N, etc.), are all going to push the industry towards an ever-increasing spiral of DRM and protectionism. Open standards sound great when you’re a user who just wants to read your ebooks, but when a company is trying to protect its revenue stream it will take just about any option available to it to do so.

    Apple’s closed architecture, absolute (and arbitrary) control over applications allowed onto the device, and now their entry into the ebook vending arena itself do not bode well for our future experiences as ebook readers.

  17. RIck,

    If you go to file > Add Media (or whatever) you can then point to the .epub file. It’ll sync next time you hook up your iPad.

  18. I’ve just gotten my iPad and I was able to load up non-DRM EPUB docs from Project Gutenberg and view them as you would expect using the iBook reader. Note that the EPUB books have to be synch-ed to the device via iTunes. I have described this multi-step process here: (but it’s not too onerous from the majority of iTunes users).

  19. If one creates an epub formated document to test/read a book of one’s own creation on an iPad and tries to move it with iTunes to the iPad this crashes iTunes on the host computer. If one tries to pass the epub document to Pages on the iPad then Pages does count the document in the My Documents list however it will not display the file for selection. Conclusion, if you are an author that has the tech savvy to create a epub book in a software package such as Adobe’s InDesign then wish to test it out on iPad, you will not get far.

  20. If your home-made ePub is crashing your iTunes, likely your ePub has validation errors. You can test it free at to find what those errors might be.

    I create ePub books for self-published authors and they all pass easily into iTunes and iBooks.

    To my surprise, ePubs exported from InDesign need tweaking before they pass ePubCheck validation. An invalid file will not be accepted by Apple for iBook distribution.

    I’m happy to help if anyone needs it.

  21. In response to Precia Carraway, there are copious examples on the web for creating content in EPUB format and publishing it onto an iPad.

    Here is a YouTube video showing how to generate content in Adobe InDesign CS5 and publish it as an EPUB book onto an iPad:

    Note from the comments on the video that it appears Apple’s implementation of EPUB is lacking in some areas.

    If you’re trying to install an EPUB-format e-book on the iPad using iTunes, and iTunes is crashing using either Add Media or drag-and-drop, then I would strongly recommend checking how you’re generating the EPUB file (you never say what software you’re using to create the e-book) and maybe trying alternate software. If that doesn’t help, then maybe consider testing that file against another user’s iTunes installation. It may be that Apple’s EPUB support is broken enough, or far enough from the specification, that the software crashes when trying to read your particular EPUB file.

  22. Not All books :( Someone said it supports not all books, but apparently there’s no Sony DRM’d app, so not Sony Books :(

  23. I can transfer books from my Sony library to my iTunes library and drag and drop the books to my iPad, but they won’t open. Message says incorrect format. Am I missing a step?

  24. Hi folks! Our town’s public library provides ebooks that are download-able, but not onto iPads. To download the ebook, you must first download the Adobe EPUB software. Thus, this step prevents me from loading the ebook onto my iPad as the iPad won’t accept the EPUB software. Any chance anyone out there can help me w an App or work around? (Tried looking for an App for this, but was unsuccessful ….) Or, must I accept the hard reality that I will not be able to read electronic books from my public library on my iPad? :(

  25. Irene, there is currently at least one iPad app that supports the Adobe DRM called Bluefire Reader, which you should be able to use for reading your library books. I haven’t tried myself but that is definitely worth a go.

    I have also heard that the Kobo Reader app will soon support importing Adobe DRM titles so you should also keep an eye on that.

    Both of these apps are free to download.

  26. Well, Mike, I hope you’re still out there.

    It looks like Bluefire Reader is the answer. I made sure that the Adobe ID on my iPad and my PC matched. The library book(s) tranferred over to the Bluefire Reader library. But — I get the following error message: No valid license was found for this item. So, can’t open the books.

    What am I doing wrong?

  27. OK and HOORAY! I figured it out and Bluefire Reader IS the answer! I can now read my library books on iPad! Many thanks, Michael Cook!!

  28. Irene, I got the same error message “No valid license was found for this item”. What did you do to fix this problem? Does anyone else know how to fix this?

  29. You’ve got to make sure that you “register” your ADOBE epub software with an Adobe ID, and that this ADOBE ID matches the ADOBE ID that you used for Bluefire Reader when you loaded it onto your iPad.

    I had declined registering an ADOBE ID on the epub software from the library. If you did the same, you need to go back into that program and create an ADOBE ID for that program.

    Bluefire Reader would not let me install unless I created an ADOBE ID for that app….

    Once you coordinate/match those IDs, then try downloading the book again, like you did the first time (… that resulted in the message: No valid license found ….)

    Good luck …………

  30. Ok…I need help. I have read all your comments and have downloaded Bluefire to my Ipad. However my books do not show up in it. THey show up in ibooks but can not be read there. They were all purchased for my sony reader. ALl the books are on my pc in a reader library and in a calibre library. Heard calibre would work, but it doesn’t. ANy help on how to import into bluefire would be fantastic!!!

  31. The instructions for transferring the files are in Blufire. Select the get books icon and read the instructions. They go through a couple of scenarios, but basically you have to add Bluefire to the shared components. Then you can just copy and paste from the Sony library. I don’t even use adobe digital editions for the transfer. You do need an adobe ID though or nothing seems to work. The books are in the bluefire library, not iBook.

  32. Hi all, epubBlog admin here.

    For those interested in borrowing EPUB ebooks from their local library (using iPad/Bluefire, Sony Reader, or the new OverDrive app – although this should work for most Adobe DRM eReaders) I’ve written a new article covering this: Library Books on your eReader.

  33. Can I turn a document written with Pages on my iPad into an ePub so it appears on my bookshelf? If so, how does one do that?

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