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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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November 2011
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A Kindle Conversion: Why The EPUB Argument Stopped Mattering

Amazon made what appeared to be some fairly big opponents in the earliest days of the Kindle.  All they had to do was decide to go with a closed format.  Unlike some companies who might have decided that a strong DRM scheme was plenty of protection, they made sure that Kindle owners were locked in by consciously failing to support the industry standard eBook format.  It struck many people, myself included, as manipulative and more than a little bit condescending.

Thinking back, many of my earliest complaints about the Kindle revolved around the EPUB format.  I was ideologically supportive of the Nook in a very strong way as a result.  They might have wanted to lock in customers via DRM, but at least things like outside purchases and library books would work if the user wanted to make the effort to access them.  MobiPocket format was already too outdated in many situations.

Oddly enough, in principle the objections remain to this day.  The difference is that now customers aren’t expected to buy into an unproven platform with no guarantee that success was ahead.  Keep in mind that the Kindle was not the first E Ink eReader.  Sony was already doing a fairly good job of fizzling out by then and has been taking a back seat in the field ever since as a result.

My own change of opinion regarding the importance of the eBook format conflict stems from purely practical matters.  We have reached a point where there is literally nothing you can’t do with a Kindle that can be done on another device.  Library books are plentiful, no author or publisher is likely to boycott the Kindle platform in favor of the competition, and on the off chance that you find a DRM-free eBook you want on your device you can convert it for free with Calibre (a practical necessity for the eBook enthusiast in case you haven’t adopted already. Google it!).  In a situation where the format itself offers no particular advantage inherent to itself, there is no longer much reason to cling to it.  There is a reason you don’t see much use of HD-DVD anymore, or Betamax before that.

As we move forward into the next generation of formats, HTML5 forms the underlying structure.  Kindle Format 8 looks to allow for as much, or as little, formatting as the person producing a given publication desires as a result.  This will improve Amazon’s ability to present their media equally well on practically any size display, which makes sense given speculation regarding future Kindle Tablet options.  Nobody else seems to have really adopted an equally versatile approach yet, and even if that happens it won’t necessarily change anything.  There is only so much you can do in order to essentially show off text in an attractive manner.

What it all comes down to is that customers will go where they get the best experience.  EPUB might be better than Mobi, but with the Kindle providing the better hardware and Amazon backing their product with strong infrastructure and a great book store that didn’t matter enough.  It’s one more format war down.

5 comments to A Kindle Conversion: Why The EPUB Argument Stopped Mattering

  • Brian K.

    And yet of the 350+ ebooks that I own on my Kindle DX and new Fire, none were purchased from Amazon and none have DRM. They are all in PDF format. (Mostly all purchaess from O’reilly, Manning, and Apress.)

    Sure, the hardware is nice.
    But the store is useless if the only selection is DRM-cripped books.
    The format war is far from over.

  • Pablo Defendini

    “We have reached a point where there is literally nothing you can’t do with a Kindle that can be done on another device.”

    This is a patently false statement.

    You can’t do fixed layout books on Kindle, you can’t do DOM scripting on Kindle, you can’t do many CSS3 effects on Kindle, you can’t do audio and video on KF8 (for now). These are all capabilities that are, to one degree or another, supported on other, EPUB-based platforms.

    While Amazon is doing an admirable job at bringing their KF8 format up to feature-parity with other reading systems (and, to their credit, many of the deficiencies that I list above are probably coming soon), it’s not accurate to say that the Kindle platform offers the same features of other reading systems (most notably iBooks).

    All that being said, I don’t disagree with the main point of your post—formats and DRM are becoming more and more invisible to the end-user; and that’s as it should be. As you say, user/customer experience trumps all, and Amazon does have one of the most customer-centric cultures around.

    What seems most likely is that EPUB will remain the industry-strandard from a production perspective: publishers will produce ebooks using EPUB, and then convert to whatever format (DRMed EPUB, KF8, etc.) a retailer specifies, using tools like Amazon’s own Kindlegen converter.

    As for your assertion that “There is only so much you can do in order to essentially show off text in an attractive manner,” well, clearly you’re not a book designer ;) Book design is a highly expressive discipline, both in print and in digital (pick up ten books at a bookstore, and open them all up side-by-side—odds are that no two will be alike).

  • B. Wilson

    It’s possible that the next e-reader I buy will be a Kindle. This is mainly due to Calibre being an excellent piece of software; without it a Kindle wouldn’t be on my list.

    Amazon can subsidize the hardware. I’ll just fill it with books purchased elsewhere, thanks.

  • “What it all comes down to is that customers will go where they get the best experience.”

    This statement is true. It is also why I abandoned a Kindle in favor of a Nook simple touch, and dropped the Kindle app from my iPad in favor of iBooks. Both of them are mostly displaying non-encrypted technical books purchased from the likes of Safari, Apress and Manning. The formatting of the ePubs are vastly superior to the mobi versions of the same title from the same publisher.

    As to whether the Nook Tablet or the Kindle Fire is the better device remains to be seen. I haven’t been impressed with either one of them with the time I’ve checked them out in the stores, but I have yet to see any Android based tablet that knocked my socks off. The hardware of the Kindle Fire is *not* the selling point. The content ecosystem behind it is, and that is where Amazon has a significant advantage.

    “Sony was already doing a fairly good job of fizzling out by then and has been taking a back seat in the field ever since as a result.”

    Sony converted their store to ePub, using Adobe’s platform a few years ago. Which means those DRM’d ePubs I bought from them work on my Nook too. They don’t work on my Kindle even though there’s no technical reason Amazon couldn’t provide that function.

  • The moment any other format has in-text index and robust dictionary functionality (with wordforms), Mobipocket will be outdated. Until then its all about eye candy. Other devices (the epub variety) struggle with large reference works with complicated structure. They are slow in opening random text, and slow searching the text. I don’t know if this is an issue of the hardware or the format. E-Ink Kindles with Mobipocket excel in this regard.

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