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How to read, print, and save e-books

Your options for reading ebooks, or getting them onto paper, your hard drive, iPhones or iPads, Kindles and more

Want to know something else? See answers to other frequently asked customer questions.

“I hate reading things on a computer.” And yet my books are basically just big web pages. Houston, we have a problem!

But not a big one. These days, widespread use of big smartphones and iPads have mostly solved it. Reading tutorials and articles on these devices is great for most people, most of the time. As big webpages, they have some great features, like footnotes that pop up in place, a bookmarking feature, and of course many links to follow to related content as desired.

Nevertheless, this page goes into detail about all the various technological options:

Offline Reading

My books are basically big webpages, but that actually doesn’t mean you have to be online to read them. Any webpage can be saved for reading later when you’re offline, using a read-it-later service that saves webpages. For instance, all of Apple’s devices use the “Safari Reading List” feature, or you can use one of several platform-independent read-it-later services. Instapaper is my favourite, but here’s a good tour of all of them.

Webarchive files: the offline reading options for geeks (but really not that hard)

Rather than using a read later service, you can also just save webpages yourself. This is a good option (a bit geeky, but not difficult) that almost no one seems to know about: webarchive files produce a perfect copy of a webpage for storage on your own Mac/PC. The catch is that these files are not easy to work with on tablets and smartphones, so although it’s surprisingly easy to preserve a web document on your laptop or desktop computer, it’s more or less stuck there: it’s tricky to move it to a tablet and read it there.

The iPad rules

Hands down, the best reading experience for my books is on Apple’s iPad. Although any tablet will work, I’ve fine-tuned things for iPad’s and there are a few Apple-only perks, like Safari Reading List for offline reading. You can sit in your favourite chair (or on a plane without Wi-Fi) and still have all the great features of the online version of the book. There’s zero setup: you just go to your email and tap the access link and “boom,” you’re reading the book on your iPad.

I have a help page with a bit more detailed info and tips for iPad users.

The original iPad! I still have mine. It’s being used as a digital picture frame.

iPhones and other smartphones

Most smartphones are a better choice for reading my books than you might think. I still read a great deal on my iPhone to this day, because it’s always with me, even though I have also several iPads, Kindles, and other tablets kicking around (I have to have many of these things for testing purposes). The sacrifice is obvious — that screen is small! — but I have put a great deal of work into making my tutorials look nice even on small screens. Try it: you may surprised how well it works.

Laptop and netbook computers

Like an iPad, a laptop or netbook is a computer that gives you access to every feature of the online version. And they are fairly portable, of course. But many people don’t care for reading on any computer screen. And I understand — I’d far rather read on an iPad, or really any tablet or big phone.

e-Ink Kindles are great but problematic

Kindles are well-designed for reading. They are all lighter than the iPad, and I love “e-ink” displays, which look more like paper. But there are catches. There are many different models of Kindle now, and only one (the Fire) has the capability of reading the web versions of my ebooks in a “proper” web browser like on an iPad.

For all the e-ink models, you must use the “send to Kindle” feature with any webpage (and my books are basically big webpages). This feature basically converts any webpage into something you can read on your Kindle. It’s kind of like “printing” to your Kindle. It’s Kindle’s version of an offline reading service (like Pocket, Instapaper or Apple’s Safari Reading List).

Sending my books to your Kindle is definitely not as good as a proper Kindle e-book, but it is “fine.”

Will I ever offer true Kindle e-books through Amazon? Probably someday, yes.

Printing on paper!

Paper is so simple and nice. I don’t have to tell you why paper is good. Of course, it will take a lot of ink and paper, and links won’t work … but paper is nice!

To print the books, simply print them directly from the web — like printing any web page, only bigger. Different computers and browsers handle printing in different ways — and not always very well. However, the formatting is deliberately fairly simple, and so they mostly print out quite well for such large and complex web documents.

Beware! Some of the tutorials are very large, as big or bigger than a typical novel, and can easily drain a typical home printer of ink and paper. Options: use print previewing features, knock the font size down a notch, skip colour, print double-sided, or go to a copy shop to do the job on a nice fast commercial-grade laser printer. More printing tips:

Where are the “traditional” e-book formats, like PDF, MOBI (Kindle), and EPUB (iBooks)?

I do not directly offer my content in these formats. You can create your own PDFs (see next section).

Customers do want an e-book they can “keep” in their library of other e-books, and there are obviously some great benefits to these technologies. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of problems with them. I idealistically prefer self-publishing on the open Internet. If you’re curious about my reasoning, see Better eBooks! What’s wrong with the ebook industry (and how I’m making something better for my customers).

PDF is popular, but it’s not a great technology — a creaky old format, full of quirks & not nearly as “portable” as one would hope. PDFs are not the future (and I try to skate to where the tech puck is going, like Steve Jobs).

And PDFs? Customers certainly want PDFs and consider them “real” e-books, but that doesn’t mean you should. 😜 What an awful technology! Simple ones have major limitations, and complex and full-featured ones are a nightmare to produce and maintain and still can't match the functionality of a relatively simple webpage. I offered PDF versions for a couple years ago, really nice ones (for PDFs) … and it was a huge hassle and business mistake. I’m happy to be done with them, even though it meant cutting my losses from one of the biggest programming projects I’ve ever done.

I am a connoisseur of reading technologies. I have been using every imaginable digital publishing and reading technology since the early 1980s, and they are all seriously flawed. I am an expert about this, maybe the only thing I am truly expert about, and I choose to publish exclusively on the web for a long list of good reasons — perhaps it’s foolish and idealistic and stubborn, but I am what I am, and this is just how I do things here, and it makes me happy to show up for work again. So goodbye, PDFs!

That said …

The web versions are the canonical versions of my books and the only ones I officially support. However, I do make sure that they will convert to PDF fairly well. My tutorials are just big webpages, and you can easily generate a PDF version of any webpage — it’s like virtual printing.

The output is not the kind of highly polished PDF that you’d get if I was optimizing for PDF output. In particular, it will be missing key features of the live version like popup footnotes. It’s also important to realize that any PDF version will quickly get out of sync with the web version, which gets updated regularly over the years. But it works!

And how do you do it? How do you make a webpage into a PDF file?

It’s like “printing,” but the result goes into a file instead of on paper. You’re just saving what’s displayed in the web brower as a PDF file. This functionality has been baked right into Apple software for 20 years, it’s part of Android as well, and it’s a feature of Microsoft’s Edge browser (and there are plugins to do it in others). The exact details vary with device, so if you need help just do a Google search for “save webpage as PDF [insert your device and/or operating system here]”. But the principle is very simple.

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