E-Books vs. Ebooks vs. eBooks

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When I came to Digital Book World seven months ago, I had a very important decision to make: e-books, ebooks or eBooks*?

I knew I’d be writing a lot about e-books and I knew I’d want to be consistent when I did.

Digital Book World was using “ebooks” at the time but something about that didn’t sit right with me.

First off, digital books were books that were “e,” so I felt more comfortable labeling them “e-books.” Also, I looked at what the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times were doing and they were both using “e-books.” (To check for yourself, simply type the following search query into Google: “e-books” site:wsj.com. Remove the hyphen and try it again. See?)

Also, I didn’t feel that e-books had reached the ubiquity of “email,” which used to be “e-mail,” depending on who you asked. (As it turns out, the preferred style at the Times seems to be “e-mail,” while the Journal seems to prefer “email.”)

What does the Chicago Manual of Style say? Well, a search for “e-book” turns up a hyphenation style-guide that stipulates “e” should be “hyphenated except with proper nouns,” like “eBay.” A search for “ebook” turns up no results. (The AP Style Guide? Don’t know because it’s not a free resource.)

But then I decided to check a higher power: Google.

Using the Google Adwords keyword tool, I discovered that “ebooks” has 13.6 million global monthly searches and “e-books” has 4.1 million, meaning that roughly triple the amount of people search for “ebooks” versus “e-books.”

Furthermore, the competition for “ebooks” is low (meaning there are fewer pages that try to rank for this as a keyword) versus the competition for “e-books,” which is medium, according to Google Adwords.

Not totally convinced, I decided to try the Google Insights for Search tool, which measures overall searches on a term versus the total Web searches. As you can see from the chart below where red is “ebooks” and blue is “e-books,” there are many more searches for the former.

So, why do we at DBW still use “e-books”? Well, maybe we should switch. What do you think?

This poll is now closed.

Go to the Digital Book World Facebook page and vote!

* What about eBooks, you ask? Well, to me, that looks like a brand name, like eBay or Sony’s eReader. We’re not reporting on a brand name here, but a generic thing. Oh, by the way, what about e-reader vs. ereader?

Jeremy Greenfield

About Jeremy Greenfield

Jeremy Greenfield is the editorial director of Digital Book World. Opinions presented here are his own. Read more of his work here.

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42 thoughts on “E-Books vs. Ebooks vs. eBooks

  1. You know me, Jeremy. My vote goes for eBooks. Stylish with the capital \B\ and still pairs up with the most searched for terms by the people. In the spirit of the Occupy movement, who cares what Wall Street thinks! Power to the people!

  2. Finally someone is bringing this out in the open for discussion! :) I’ve been in the publishing graduate program at Pace University for the past year and we’re always using all three in discussions, papers, etc.

    I think it should be written as “ebooks.” Like your research shows, it’s the most common way the word is searched. Also, the press used “e-mail” in the past because it was AP style standard, but they changed it to “email” in March 2011. That I know from my journalism background. They did the same with “Web site” to FINALLY just “website.”

    On a side note, I also like the look of “eBooks” with a capital B. :)

  3. I like ebooks (and email and website) for clarity, consistency, and simplicity. A hyphen here adds typographical clutter. It just seems unnecessary.

  4. This made me smile; I went through exactly the same stages when I was producing a marketing document for a client recently. Their existing documents–some of which I’d produced–used all three spellings, and even threw in “digital editions” for good measure.

    Like you , I looked at the style guides and then jumped onto Google and Bing, which convinced me–and the client–that using “ebook” was the closest thing to standard that we could find.

  5. As a former editor, who was brow beat by my managing editor into swearing allegiance to God, aka “The Chicago Manual of Style.” But, serious, when in doubt use a reference that is the main guide by professional editors and writers. Hence, “e-Books.”

  6. I find it extremely weird that people are voting for eBooks in such higher numbers. \Books\ is not a proper noun. I blame Apple and all its lower-case-i-uppercase-[Word] stuff. I don’t think google knows, either. I for one, am rather lazy when doing google searches. Half the time, I don’t bother to correct small typos, because google nearly always knows what i \mean.\ Grammatically speaking, at this point, e-books is most correct in terms of showing the original meaning of the compound.
    Then again, I never thought I’d use \blog\ and began mine calling it a Web Log, which sounds entirely silly nowadays.
    But I don’t know. Blogs are entirely unique whereas e-books are really just a form of books, like paperback books, hard cover books, etc.
    For now, I will not give up my hyphen.

    • As an e hyphen book publisher I have to go with the hyphen. The name of my company is E-Reads. If I didn’t hyphenate it people might mistake us for something called EH-ree-ads, which sounds like a band of Homeric harpies. Whatever the popular vote, the hyphens have it.

  7. The framing of the choices is confusing and misses key variants. I think the uncapitalized form should be ebook, but the capitalized form should be eBook (not Ebook).

  8. I agree with Georganna, that “ebooks” should be the form for the word in the middle of a sentence, but I prefer “eBook” when capitalized, as in a title or the beginning of a sentence.

  9. The offered choices were confusing, given that they all contained a capital letter. I assume the intention was that the capitals on E-book and Ebook would be lowercased except at the beginning of a sentence. Since “book” is not a proper noun, I would not want to make it one by capitalizing it. And the trend is clearly in the direction of losing hyphens over time, so I have to vote for “ebook.”

  10. Coupla thoughts:

    I’m with those who believe laziness wins out, which means “ebooks”. Also: I wrote a press release recently in which I used “Wi-Fi”, and my client changed it to “WiFi” with the argument that Google AdWords’ keyword tool showed his version was searched more frequently — and obviously he wanted to maximize the chance his release would be discovered through natural search. So there’s more than an interest in consistency (or intuitive notions of clarity) at stake in decisions like these. BTW: the New York Times hyphenates teenager as teen-ager, which I think is utterly unnecessary.

    I’m equally (if not more) interested in knowing how to refer to printed books. Are they print books, analog books, physical books — what’s the proper contrasting term to ebooks/e-books/eBooks?

  11. We struggle with this issue at our publishing company. I say e-book or ebook is fine, but, please, please do not capitalize as eBook. I agree with the writer of this piece that it makes it seem like a brand name and makes me think that somehow all ebooks come from Apple. Just because it looks cute does not make it correct.

  12. A standard I am using is to go with “ebooks” as it follows “email” and is the most searched-for term. However, big players (Amazon, Google) use “eBook” in the titles of their stores and in their menus. But this made me spot the distinction between “upper case”, “lower case” and “title case”. “eBook” makes sense when it’s part of a title, e.g. “The Amazing eBook Store”. However, outside of a title, just “ebook” will suffice. Hence: “In the Amazing eBook Store, we sell ebooks. Ebooks are great.”

  13. Typical corporate behavior, constraining the choices to what they want, rather than let the users offer their preferred choices.

    I vote for ebooks for all the reasons cited above.

  14. I’m a big fan is pbooks (print/ picture), abooks (audio/ adult/ awful), bbooks (Braille/ boring), dbooks (digital/ dumb), so why not ebooks for (electronic/ easy). I just noticed that the delivery system has little to do with the content.

  15. As an editor for the National Information Standards Organization, I went through this same investigation and thought process a year ago. Based on that analysis, we made the decision to go with e-book, as that appeared to be the most “correct” approach. Just as the “correct” word is still “e-mail”. This is according to the “standards” makers of style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style that you cited.

    As a former librarian who did information retrieval searches as a profession, I personally prefer “ebook” and “email”. Whenever a word is hyphenated, different search systems will handle the word differently, making it more difficult to search for it. You often have to use the system’s search syntax for treating is as a two-word phrase rather than a single word, e.g. putting quote marks around it. And when typing, it’s always annoying (slower) to have to move your hand up to the top row where the hyphen is.

    As an editor, though, I prefer the look and readability of e-book. And since I’m working with a standards organization, we believe in following standards and recommended practices, such as the style guides. And The Chicago Manual of Style is our preferred style guide. So until they change their guidelines, e-book it is.

    From all of these perspectives, I must say I hate eBook. Putting a capital letter in the middle of a word like that makes it appear more like a formal or trade name, rather than a generic noun. I also believe it negatively impacts readability as it is not what the eye/brain is expecting in the middle of a word.

  16. eBooks is clearly incorrect unless it’s a proper name.

    ebook is a bridge too far at this point in the term’s evolution, and phonetically suggests that the first syllable would be pronounced with a neutral vowel as in “elusive.”

    Please stick with e-book! So what if people drop the hyphen in searches — of course they do. I don’t capitalize when I’m searching, and I’m an editor.

  17. I too am an editor, now retired, and not a particularly conservative one either (so rid yourself of the schoolmarm image). The terms should be “e-book” and “e-mail,” to aid pronunciation and to acknowledge that the “e” is an abbreviation for “electronic.” Most search engines that I’ve used ignore internal punctuation, so that’s not a valid measure. By standard English rules of pronunciation, the beginning “e” without the hyphen would be short (eh, not ee). The form “eBook” is an abomination; as another commenter points out, that makes it look like a trade name.

  18. Camel-casing looks too much like a brand name; it’s trashy. And I don’t care how newspapers style it—this is the *book* publishing industry. Chicago all the way.

    You can pry my hyphen from my cold, dead hands.

  19. We are in a fast moving world. We need to keep things short and to the point as well as keeping up with the times. Such things as text speak is preferential in the right context in the time-conscious world. Being understood that is the important point not the syntax, grammar etc. Then again is George Bush was corrected on his English then we may not have had time to enter Iraq or Afghanistan! If you are not in with the new and out with the old then you are going to be left behind. In this fast-paced world it is difficult to catch up! eBook or ebook depending on where it is used is my vote.

    If I had dynamice-books.com and somebody else had dynamicebooks.com, which are you more likely to type in. The former needs explaining to the user. The ‘-‘ in website addresses always depreciate the value of websites considerably. Time and money are the driving force in business and society at the moment. People want to spend less time doing things and more money doing it. I don’t necessarily agree with it but it is the way of the world.

  20. Doesn’t the hyphen in e-book keep the word from working as a Twitter hashtag? I always take out the hyphen in words when I’m re-tweeting.

  21. For what it’s worth, the AP Style Guide discourages the use of hyphens, and states they should be used only in certain circumstances:

    1. preventing the afore-mentioned ambiguity.
    2. in the use of compound modifiers (ie quick-witted, well-known)
    3. in the use of compound nouns or adjectives (ie Italian-American)

    Myself, I prefer eBooks, which implies more emphasis on “book”, and notes that it’s in electronic format.

  22. Como revisora, optaria por E-books ou e-books. Mas gostei bastante de eBooks pelo destaque para a palavra livro. Apesar, e daí a graça, de estar em uma plataforma eletrônica, que abre, e não encerra, a era do livro para a humanidade.

  23. Dick:

    Some thoughts on what to call printed books: One of the things we’re referring to when we say “book” is a long-form work of literature, not just a printed and bound object. No one who’s writing a short story or a poem or an essay says they’re writing a book, unless they’re referring to a collection that the story or poem or essay is meant to be a part of. Fiction writers might say they’re writing a novel or a novella, but they might also say they’re writing a book. Nonfiction writers writing long-form works say they’re writing a book. I vote for defining a book as a long-form work, and then refer to the print and electronic editions of the book as the “print edition” and the “electronic edition” or the “digital edition.” (Or is “edition” imprecise?) I haven’t given this a lot of thought, so I’m sure there are problems with this suggestion, but since we’re stuck making a distinction between types of editions or formats, maybe we should no longer privilege one over another by calling it simply “book,” as if it epitomizes what a long-form work is. (Though I suppose using the term “long-form work” as I’m using it here presupposes the printed page—the minimum number of pages a long-form work needs to be in order for it to be economical for a publisher to publish it.) And in the age of all kinds of abbreviation, I’d rather resist “pbook,” “ebook,” or any other such thing. It won’t kill anyone to use more syllables and more words. (Will it?)

  24. A very informative article that will make me think twice each time I type “e-book” (my preferred spelling). However, I’m still not totally convinced of the superiority of the hyphenated version over other variants. I looked to the poll for answers, only to see the votes fairly evenly split! I suppose only time will tell…

  25. Ebooks or ebooks. Email – or electronic mail – doesn’t carry a hyphen so by that logic neither should ebook – or electronic book. The irregular capitalisation applies to proper nouns – eg the product names iMac, iTunes, iPad and iPhone. Correct me if I’m wrong but off the top of my head I can’t think of any other examples where such capitalisation applies.

  26. I am a librarian also. Search mechanisms don’t all find the same thing., and this presents a problem.
    \e-book\ can, & will, match just ‘book’. (Not a helpful trageted response in a library setting!)

    I consciously add statements to all our records for electronic books so that we have e-book and ebooks and \electronic book\ in them, along with pre-defined canned searches & limiters in our catalog.

    Language should evolve as necessary. Given the electronic searching environment which surrounds electronic books, I await the day when the concept is consistently respresented by a single, non-hyphenated term. I don’t care if it is capitalized or not.

    Now… how about those \non-musical sound recordings\ which are also in electronic formats…. hmmm… \Audio ebooks\ (ugh) , \talking ebooks\ (ugh), \audioebooks\?

  27. Ugh! Using “eBooks” with that capital “B” flourish means one more special spelling to worry about and one more thing to double-check during editing. Plus it just guarantees that we’re just going to get into another “Internet/internet,” “e-mail/email,” “Web site/website” argument a few years in the future when it starts to look dated.

  28. I’m with “ebooks”. But the question is what do we do at the beginning of a sentence/heading? Lowercase “e” is clearly the standard for all things digital, but “ebook” just doesn’t look right at the beginning of a sentence; unfortunately neither does Ebook!

    While we’re on the subject of capitalisation, why are there so many dinosaurs who talk about the Internet and the Web?

  29. I prefer e-book. But I think that ebook is likely to win out eventually. I don’t think eBook will stick around, you only capitalize proper nouns, not generic terms. Consider aspirin, it used to be a trademarked name – Aspirin – but when it became generic, people dropped the capital.

    Or consider Kleenex or Xerox. People tend to drop the capitals and turn it into kleenex and xerox. The Kimberly-Clark Corporation and the Xerox Corporation go to great lengths to remind people that these are proper nouns and not generic, so they should be capitalized. They do this because if they don’t, they could lose the trademark.

    Thus we see that the way the English language works is that capitals get dropped unless it is a proper noun. If iPad were to ever become a generic name for a tablet, it would likely become “ipad”.

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