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eBook Compilers

eBook Compilers

NOTE: This page is about eBook Compilers for personal computers. We do not discuss software for creating eBooks for PDAs, HandHelds etc.

If you're going to create an eBook, at some point you will need an eBook Compiler.

An eBook Compiler is our program that takes the source files (the content of your eBook) and compiles them into an easy-to-distribute format.

Commercial quality eBook Compilers cost from just US $50 or less, up to several times that.

There are lots of choices, and price is not always a guide to quality! For example, our program, Activ eBook Compiler has many powerful and unique features, but but it is also one of the cheapest compilers.

Rather the looking at every single compiler - this chapter will tell you some of the choices, and on what factors, if it was me, I would base a decision.


Some of the eBook Compiler vendors might charge you not only their compiler software, but also additional royalties for each eBook that you distribute. (perhaps after an initial allocation of copies that you are allowed to distribute "free" before you purchased their compiler)

We do not charge authors any royalties, for eBooks created using our own eBook Compiler software.

If you use other software, we recommend that you check what, if any, royalty policies apply.

Different Types of Compilers

There are three main kinds of Compilers that I have come across:
  1. HTML Compilers

    HTML compilers convert HTML files (like you have on a web site) into an easy-to-distribute format, often self-contained Windows programs.

    An HTML compiler may be a good choice if any of the following apply:

    • You generally expect your eBook to be read on the computer screen.
      (Not all HTML eBooks print well or easily)

    • You want to take advantage of the "special" features used on web pages, or that some HTML Compilers allow to be also used in eBooks (for example: CGI forms to subscribe to a mailing list).

    • You want a good search facility (most HTML compilers allow users to search quite easily and powerfully).

    • You have experience designing web pages.
      (creating your eBook is likely to be a similar process to creating web pages)

    • You want to easily reuse information, in HTML format, in your eBook on your web site, or vice-versa.
      (as HTML is the input to an HTML compilers, you may be able to reuse at least some of it in an eBook, with little or no extra work)

    • You want to take advantage of some particular feature that your chosen HTML Compiler provides. Depending on the compiler used, you might have access to Rebranding (for viral marketing of free eBooks), additional programming interfaces ("API"), modifying the toolbar appearance, advanced scripting features, etc.

    All the HTML Compilers that I have encountered, fall into subcategories:

    • "True" EXE Compilers based on Internet Explorer's engine:

      These convert your HTML (and usually any associated graphics etc.) into self-contained programs. The big advantage is that your eBook is probably relatively secure, is totally self-contained, and is likely to have a very high degree of compatibility with pages seen on your web site.

      In my opinion, this is the best approach as your eBook will look as you expect it, and probably support all major Internet Explorer features.

      The only disadvantage is that only users with the correct Windows installation will be able to view your eBooks - but fortunately this includes the vast majority of web surfers. (in most cases including Activ eBook CompilerActiv eBook Compiler, the user does not need to have Internet Explorer as their default browser, but they do need various parts of Internet Explorer pre-installed).

      Many of the more expensive eBook Compilers, as well as our own Activ eBook CompilerActiv eBook Compiler fall into this subcategory.

    • "True" Compilers based on their own engine:

      These convert your HTML (and usually any associated graphics etc.) into self-contained programs. Like the compilers based on Internet Explorer's engine, they can usually offer relatively high security and easy distribution.

      The advantage of this approach is that a few more percent of web surfers can read these eBooks. (example: these extra people might include those with, say Windows but Internet Explorer not installed at all)

      The potential disadvantage is depending on the compiler and your HTML content, you might encounter compatibility issues.
      B A compiler developer who creates their own HTML engine, might support only a limited subset of HTML tags and features. Or they might support them differently from how Internet Explorer does. Microsoft have put a tremendous effort (lots of time, money and very clever programmers, etc.) into developing Internet Explorer - so it could be tough challenge for an eBook Compiler vendor to try to match all this work by developing everything themselves from scratch.

    • Other HTML Compilers:

      I have sometimes come across compilers that are primarily just compression/decompression programs. They simply compress HTML files into a self-extracting executable, and then use the user's normal web browser to view them.

      In my opinion: Aside from any features that some might lack (Search?), the problem with this approach, is it may not look at as neat and professional, and depending on the compiler in question, might even require the user to manually clear up files once they've finished reading.

    While we of course recommend our own software, Activ eBook Compiler, if you want to review some of the options available, there is a selection of EXE eBook compilers listed at eBookCompilers.org.

  2. PDF Compilers

    PDF is a file format created by Adobe that can be used for eBooks (and distributing other types of documents too).

    I like to think of PDF as something akin to "electronic paper": kind of like an intelligent image of a document. By intelligent, I mean you can navigate around it on screen, see a table of contents in PDF, etc.

    To read a PDF file, a user will need to have installed the Adobe Acrobat reader. (there may be other PDF readers but I've never yet seen one).

    A PDF compiler may be a good choice if any of the following apply:

    • You generally expect your eBook to be printed.
      (PDFs print easily and well)

    • You want the eBook to always have an exact appearance as specified by you.
      (PDFs look like the original document)

    • You do not need the "special" used on web pages on that some HTML eBook compilers support.

    • You do not have experience designing web pages.
      (creating PDFs doesn't generally require knowledge of how to create a web page)

    • You do not want to reuse the same HTML-format information in your eBook on your web site, or vice-versa.
      (as you may have to go through an extra step to convert HTML to PDF, or vice-versa)

    • You do not need a good search facility inside your ebook

    • You need to convert a lot of paper or word processor files to eBooks.
      (Adobe has a range of powerful tools for converting into PDF).

    • You have a sufficient funds to afford whatever PDF tools that you need.

    • You want to reach an audience who can't read HTML compiled eBooks - for example Macintosh users.

    There is a selection of PDF eBook compilers listed at eBookCompilers.org.

  3. Other Compilers

    There are also eBook Compilers that convert other file formats such as plain text, or RTF, or proprietary formats into eBooks.

    The pricing and features in these compilers may vary widely, so I can't really offer much advice... Except to say, if using a proprietary file format to write your text in, it might be a good idea to check, early on, that you will be able recover your information from the system (without retyping it all), if you decide to switch software later.


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