Ebooks are commonly distributed as simple PDF files which you can download and then read on your computer or other devices using any of several free PDF readers.
Ebooks, which is short for “electronic books”, are books that you download and read on your computer. The “download” part is fairly straightforward, but it’s difficult to give one set of instructions that works for all users. And, to be fair, sometimes publishers make it harder than they need to as well.
Let’s see if we can’t cut through some of the confusion.
First Things First
In order to be able to read a PDF file, you must have a PDF reading program installed on your computer. Depending on your machine, you may already have one:
- In Windows 8 the “Reader” app is included
- On most Macs the “Preview” application is included
In addition, there are several third party PDF reading programs that you can download and install:
- Adobe Reader is the most “official” PDF reading program available on most platforms.
- Foxit Reader is a small, fast Adobe alternative for Windows.
In all cases, beware of and avoid additional offerings that you do not need; you only need the free PDF reading application.
In my personal experience, the applications that are included with the operating system are minimal, and I almost always end up installing a more fully-featured application. In recent years that’s the Adobe product.
Web Page Downloads
In this scenario, the publisher has directed you to a web page that has a link to a PDF. They may have sent you an email, but in this scenario, the information in that email is simply a link to a web page. More commonly, after you’ve purchased your ebook, the publisher’s shopping cart will simply take you to a page with something that says “click here to download”.
Here’s an example from my own online store, after purchasing a copy of Backing Up 101:
Now, depending on where you’re purchasing your ebook, your link may look different – it may look like a normal text link that says “click here”, it may be a graphic button, or it may look like a full URL beginning with “http://”.
I recommend you don’t just click – I know it sounds backwards, but rather than just clicking on that button or link, you should right-click – that is, click with the right mouse button instead of the normal left button. (Mac users shift+click instead). This will bring up a popup menu:
Don’t worry if your menu looks a little different – it varies, depending on the internet browser you’re using, and possibly on other software you have installed. The thing to look for is “Save Target As…“, “Save Link As…“, or similar terminology.
Click on Save Target As…. That will bring up a dialog much like this:
If you know the folder that you want to keep your ebook in, then simply navigate there and press Save. If you’re not sure where to put the ebook, I recommend your My Documents folder, or perhaps the Downloads folder as shown above.
In most browsers, you’ll then get some kind of completion message or dialog box. In Internet Explorer you’ll see something like this:
At this point, you can click on Open, and your PDF reader will open and display your ebook on screen.
This is the case where the publisher sends you a simple link directly to the ebook’s PDF file somewhere on the web:
What happens next depends on how you access your email.
In many, if not most email programs the right click and “Save Target As…” approach we used above just works. Try that first.
If not, simply click the link in the email. Chances are the email program will then ask you if you want to Open or Save (or Save As…) the file. Always choose Save, and save the file to a folder on your machine. Again, where you save them is up to you – your My Documents or Downloads folders are always candidates.
In the off chance that the email program doesn’t ask you, and simply downloads the document and then immediately opens it in your PDF reader, you have a couple of options:
- Look for a “Save Copy As…” option in the PDF reader that opened – typically in the File menu. Not all readers have this, but it’s a convenient way to quickly save a copy in a location you choose.
- Close the reading program, determine where your email program downloads things – often a temporary folder of some sort – and then use Windows Explorer to copy the file to your desired location.
Sometimes ebook sellers will send you your ebook in an email, as an attachment.
There are several problems with this approach. Often books are large enough that they trigger size limits along the way and fail to get delivered to you at all. Even if they do, spam filters will often prevent the mail from showing up in your inbox.
If you don’t get the email that you were promised, check your filtered spam – it may be there. If the email didn’t even make it that far, your only recourse is to contact the publisher.
Assuming you do get the email, you should see your ebook presented as an attachment:
Once again, exactly what you see will vary depending on what email program you are using.
What to do next will also depend on that program. Options include:
- Clicking (or CTRL+Clicking) on the attachment may pop up a “Save As…” dialog that will allow you to specify where the file is to be placed.
- Clicking on the attachment may open the file in your PDF reader.
- There may be a separate “Save Attachments…” option on a menu – often the File menu.
- There may be an option to view the file online, as shown above. (Outlook.com uses Word Online to view PDFs, Gmail displays the PDF in a floating window, other email services may have other options.)
- There may be additional download options.
Returning to your ebook
Most all of the examples above download your PDF ebook to a specific folder on your machine, often your My Documents folder, or your Downloads folder.
Generally, you can choose any folder you like, depending on how you want to organize the documents you intend to save.
When the time comes that you want to open and read your downloaded ebook, simply open Windows Explorer (aka File Explorer in Windows 8), and navigate to that folder:
Then just double-click on the pdf file to open it in your PDF reading program: