Why Amazon Doesn’t Add ePub Support to the Kindle

22723715796_107737a23b_hMy colleague with the confusingly named blog pondered this morning on whether Amazon should add support for Epub on the Kindle platform.

I've wondering about that point for the past few years (in fact, I asked this very same question back in 2011), so I'd like to answer his question:

Fire tablets support ePub with apps available through Amazon’s own appstore so what’s the big difference?

Adobe DRM’d ebook are obviously out of the question; Amazon will never in a million years pay Adobe for rights to use their crummy DRM. But why not add support for DRM-free ePub ebooks?

Why should Amazon care if someone is reading an ePub they got five years ago when the odds are the person is going to use the Kindle to make future ebook purchases?

It seems like an easy way to convert a bunch of longtime Kindle holdouts into new customers. Lots of people have acquired vast numbers of ePub ebooks over the years and that keeps them from wanting to get a Kindle. Even though converting ePubs to Kindle format is an easy process with Calibre, it’s still a hassle that some people don’t want to work through.

Amazon should at the very least add ePub as a supported format to their Kindle format conversion service. Being able to send ePubs over email or with a Send to Kindle app and have them get automatically converted to Kindle format would be a big advantage for Amazon.

I have been wondering about this same point for years, and while I can't speak for Amazon I do have a few ideas about why Amazon has the no-Epub policy.

If I were in Amazon's position, I would avoid supporting Epub simply because it cuts down on my tech support headaches and software development hassles.

No Epub support means not having to maintain yet another rendering engine so the ebooks can be displayed, and it means not having to tell users that yes the Kindle supports Epub - just not the DRMed ebook the user has. It also means not having to explain to users who a Kindle Epub files doesn't work on other ereaders due to the DRM restrictions.

Speaking as a reader, I would much prefer Epub being supported on the Kindle platform, or at least through the email conversion service. (Other services will take an Epub and send it to your Kindle, but not Amazon). This would help me a lot.

But how would it help Amazon? And would it be worth their time and expense?

Remember, the Kindle platform controls the majority of the trade ebook market, and most of the remainder is claimed by iBooks - which has proprietary DRM and restrictions on downloading even DRM-free ebooks.

Those Epub users who want to load their ebooks on to the Kindle represent a tiny fraction of a market which has arguably already chosen the Kindle formats as the standard.

Why should Amazon support a non-standard format when it already supports the market standard?

image by pasa47

About Nate Hoffelder (11471 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

16 Comments on Why Amazon Doesn’t Add ePub Support to the Kindle

  1. Why would they want to? Kindles exist to read books purchased through Amazon’s ebookstore. Books from other sources (free or otherwise) amount to being ‘the competition’ — supporting them would be counterproductive to Amazon’s business model. You don’t grow a ‘walled garden’ by encouraging weeds to invade from outside it.

  2. Why should Amazon support a non-standard format (…) ? »
    — Epub IS a standard format. A free and open standard format.
    « iBooks – which has proprietary DRM and restrictions on downloading even DRM-free ebooks ».
    — You are totally allowed to load ebooks in ePUB with Apple iBooks. AND NOT all ebooks sold in iTunes iBookstore have DRM, it’s actually a choice for publishers to do so or not.

    • ePub is a specification
      Stardards come in two flavors:
      – certified, tested standards vetted by an international standards body like ISO, ECMA, etc
      – defacto standards vetted by the marketplace

      Epub is neither.
      It is simply a wishlist spec defined by a bunch of publishing industry insiders that is increasingly diverging from the needs of the commercial ebook buyers.

      • ^^ This. To say nothing of the practical reality that commercially-available epubs are encumbered with DRM scams that aren’t compatible with hardware or software from other epub vendors, much less Amazon.

        It’s hard to make the case that epub is a standard after you’ve had to explain to a new, non-tech-savvy buyer that despite all saying “epub” you can’t open books purchased from Apple on a Nook, can’t open books purchased from B&N on a Sony reader, and can’t open your purchases from the Sony store (back when there was such a thing) in iBooks.

        Adding epub support to the Kindle would be a huge customer service expense that offered very little in the way of benefit – the handful of people who care are generally savvy enough to have a copy of calibre.

      • To put a finer point on it (although I did it 5 years ago).


  3. Simple. Ecosystem. Amazon has a huge one. And over the lifetime of a Kindle they probably make a heck of a lot more profit off content than the original hardware purchase. ePub opens the door to third party store fronts. Amazon has no interest in doing that.

  4. Interesting. An editor at a small (but not tiny) press I know told me they provide EPub files to Amazon, and Amazon converts them to Kindle format. But it might be that Amazon has to do this for publishers, because software like InDesign, which many publishers use for print layout, can produce EPub but not MOBI. I guess they don’t see any incentive for the average customer/

    • Amazon is no doubt happy to convert ePub to Amazon’s proprietary format, to get content into the store they can sell. Not the same thing as making it easy or convenient for others to sell ePub direct and get it easily onto a Kindle.

      Same way Apple treats their ecosystem. Sell anything you like – we get a cut. Want to use your own third party eCommerce system, no.

    • Yes, they do, although conversion results aren’t predictable, even with straight text unless you’ve built the epub with Kindle limitations (CSS classes honored or not) in mind (which I do if the client tells me they’re going to upload it to Kindle).

      Here’s the thing: If you create a MOBI/PRC from an epub using KindleGen, it packages the epub WITH the MOBI, making it twice as large (thereby increasing whispernet fees). If you upload an epub to KDP, it packages the epub with the AZW, etc etc etc. If you upload a MOBI/PRC made specifically for Kindle using Mobipocket, it stays the same file size, but there’s no EPUB packaged with it.

      Why do they do this? The Fire reads the epub, not the AZW.

      • Moriah, I had the same concerns regarding file size and Whispernet fees, but last I looked at the size of delivered files, Amazon was stripping the embedded epub before sending to a device. I think the main reason Kindlegen bundles the epub by default is for potential debugging purposes.

        If I were you though I wouldn’t trust the anecdotal tale of one guy you don’t know on the internet, so here’s something more useful: you can prevent Kindlegen from bundling the epub in the first place by using the following switch: -dont_append_source

        • I can’t really disagree with you, in that I’ve cracked those MOBIs open before and IIRC couldn’t see duplicate files, but the size is twice as big as the original epub. Those kilobytes have to come from somewhere.

          As for your tip, THANK YOU!!!!! 10000000000 times THANK YOU!

        • My testing confirms that Amazon calculates delivery fee based on the smallest ebook file in the Mobi package … so, the one intended for legacy devices. Yes, the extra source is in the Mobi but authors/publishers aren’t penalized for it.

          Caution, tho, on using that switch: I don’re recommend using it for fixed layout books, comic books or any other books that need hi res images. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think the switch prevents kindlegen from keeping hi res images in the package.

          • Unfortunately Kindlegen will recompress images even with the source included, so I’ve gotten in the habit of including higher quality than should be needed for anything where clarity really matters. There’s a tantalizing -preserve_img option referenced in the binary, but it’s always thrown an Unsupported Argument error for me.

  5. One reason Amazon might want to support epub is to help it’s few competitors. While that might be a silly thing for companies to do in most cases it might not be so silly in the case of a company that’s often accused of being a monopoly. The single worse thing that could happen to Amazon is losing their few competitors.


    • Point.
      But one of those competitors is Apple and they are too proud to get out of ebooks after the mess they made. 🙂
      Plus, they do make a few pennies here and there off ebooks. As long as they don’t lose money operationally they’ll stick with it…
      …at least as long as it takes to recoup the fine and legal costs. 😀

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