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Do Your Kobo Epubs Still Look Like Crap?

If they do, please let me know. I’ve been told that problem has been fixed, and if it hasn’t been then we need to raise a stink.

But if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, read on.

A few weeks back everyone started complaining about Epubs they bought from Kobo. People were transferring ebooks to other ebook readers and apps and finding that the formatting looked terrible.The line and paragraph separation looked wrong, the font size was off, and it generally looked like crap.

Some of the more tech savvy stripped the DRM and pulled the Epubs apart. It turns out that Kobo had been adding extra files to Epubs that are sent to them by the publishers. These extra files (besides breaking the Epub spec) were the source of all the problems.

I heard about this a couple weeks ago, and after asking around I got confirmation from 3 different tech people, all of whom knew what they were talking about. But rather than post a rant about it, I decided to find out why Kobo was doing this.

You may have known about the problem, but there was one relevant detail that wasn’t mentioned anywhere I could see. Did you know that Kobo has always had their own internal Epub format? It’s been there for as long as they’ve sold Epub, but it was only recently that anyone noticed.

The problem, as I understood it, was that Kobo’s internal format had been escaping into the wild. And it had only been happening for a short while – even though Kobo had been selling Epubs for a couple years now.

Doesn’t that make you wonder what changed? And that’s why I asked before I posted.

I’m told that it was a technical error, and that it has been fixed. Also, I was told that Kobo did not intend for the modified file to get into the hands of customers. According to my source at Kobo, you shouldn’t see any more of the funky looking Epub.

But has the problem really been fixed? I’m not disagreeing with my source, but if you still see the bad formatting in the next Epub you download then the problem is obviously not as fixed as Kobo thinks.

Please let me know if you keep getting the funky looking Epubs.

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CJJ January 5, 2012 um 7:29 pm

A Netflix moment for Kobo. This raised a huge stink on all ereader forums. One of their strongest selling points, and one that they were not shy to tout, was the fact that their devices and media were more "open" than their competitors. Kobo’s credibility, justified or not, was severely damaged IMO.

Companies used to have lots of employees to help prevent these things. The corporate belt tightening we’ve seen in the last three years is having its effect on planning and execution across the globe.

Nate Hoffelder January 5, 2012 um 8:09 pm

The bigger issue IMO is that they didn’t notice until I brought it to their attention. Their Netflix moment hasn’t passed yet.

CJJ January 5, 2012 um 10:08 pm

All I can say is they didn’t get my money and I was seriously looking at them for a time. I’m sure I’m not alone. A little customer service and communication goes along way. But I suppose it’s easier to play the underdog card for all the companies that under-performed in the wake of Amazon and B&N in 2011.

zelda pinwheel January 6, 2012 um 1:17 pm

It’s not quite accurate to say that kobo wasn’t aware of this situation until you mentioned it ; several french publishers had already been in contact with them to complain and we know that their french representative was also aware of the various articles in french media on the topic. They still have not made any kind of official statement to my knowledge.

I am also very skeptical that this could have been a "mistake" and i find their practice of creating a corrupt proprietary version of standard epub files more than questionable ; there is absolutely zero technical justification for that since all of the "features" mentioned as being available only via kepub are in fact features of reading apps and completely independent of the format (any app or device supporting standard epub can add bookmarks, highlights, etc.).

Also, I’ve just this second purchased a book from kobo and rather than the "Adobe DRM EPUB" listed on the book’s details page I got a kepub. I am requesting a refund and that is the last book i’ll be purchasing from kobo.

Nate Hoffelder January 6, 2012 um 1:21 pm

Yes, but did that info get from the French publisher to the person inside Kobo that could fix the problem? I’m not sure it did.

And I’m with you on whether this was a mistake. That’s why I want readers to report future occurrences.

zelda pinwheel January 6, 2012 um 1:28 pm

From what i know, yes, the info from the french publishers did indeed reach the people inside kobo who could do something about it, both here in France (kobo and fnac) and also in the main kobo offices.

I’m waiting to see what reply I will get to my email to their support about the kepub they just served me.

Nate Hoffelder January 6, 2012 um 1:29 pm

Then clearly I didn’t get the whole, or even most of the story.


Tyler January 5, 2012 um 8:48 pm

I don’t have problems with looking at my Kobo books with other readers, just my Kobo Touch. It constantly would end a paragraph and leave a huge blank where the next paragraph should be and you would have to skip to the next page to get to the next paragraph.

Mike Cane January 6, 2012 um 7:08 am

Is there any count as to the number of titles this happened with? That would be interesting to know too. And did it affect mostly fiction, non-fiction, illustrated texts?

Kobo should be emailing everyone affected and telling them to redownload the file. Amazon does that when there’s an eBook screwup.

Rashkae January 6, 2012 um 10:45 am

The 'kepub' format, as we call it, wan’t news. We’ve known a long time about it. (And indeed, the Kobo Touch shipped with two different e-book reading applications. One for kepubs and another just plain old Adobe DE. The difference became obvious since the two apps received different features at different patch levels.)

As far as I know, however, this was the first time anyone outside of kobo got a good look at the secret sauce that made kepub’s different from epubs.

fjtorres January 6, 2012 um 4:27 pm

It’s been my understanding the kepubs were only different in their DRM wrapper, which they used to directly feed the reader from the Kobo website (ala Amazon) and bypass ADE, which reduced their Adobe tax.
The rule as I understood it was that if you used ADE to download the file, you got a generic ADEPT epub and if you you used the Kobo app you got the Kepub.
That may have changed more recently.
Definitely interested in hearing just how different kepub is internally, cause my expectation is that as Kobo grows, at some point they’ll start deprecating ADEPT DRM and transition their gadgets to kepub.

Nate Hoffelder January 6, 2012 um 4:49 pm

"The rule as I understood it was that if you used ADE to download the file, you got a generic ADEPT epub and if you you used the Kobo app you got the Kepub."

That is how I understood it, yes. It’s been that way for over a year.

fjtorres January 6, 2012 um 7:10 pm

So the css issues are with Adept epubs via ADE rather than kepubs.

Nate Hoffelder January 6, 2012 um 8:16 pm

No, the css issues are because Kobo should be giving Adept Epubs but they are actually giving kepubs.

fjtorres January 7, 2012 um 8:11 am

Ah, so there is more to kepub than the DRM wrapper?
Heh, feeds into my expectation if they’re delivering Kepubs outside the Kobo app.

jenreads January 6, 2012 um 11:41 am

I ordered two books, from two different publishers, last week and both were corrupt. I called customer service, complained (loudly) and received a credit within a couple of hours. It was pretty good customer service but I haven’t had the guts to buy from them again.

Mikaela January 6, 2012 um 12:15 pm

I bought Whisper in the Dark by Maya Banks from Kobo a couple of days ago. There were formatting errors. Or actually there were one error that was repeated through the book. I’ll probably open it in Sigil, and fix the errors. sigh.

Friday Links: Strange Alliances, CDC study on sex, Kobo problems | Dear Author January 6, 2012 um 12:32 pm

[…] asks if your Kobo books are looking like crap. I know that this is a big problem for some of our readers. Apparently Kobo places a wrapper around […]

Blossom January 6, 2012 um 1:33 pm

Last month I bought Christmas Cradle by Linda Warren and it was linked to the kepub instead of the publisher’s version. I’ve yet to contact support about but it was a mess to read on Mantano. The words were pushed together, badly spaced. The book was released in December so I should have gotten a publisher’s version not the kepub.

Ann January 6, 2012 um 3:45 pm


I’ve bought/downloaded almost 200 ebooks from Kobo without problems, but in December I bought 3 ebooks where the font was too big and it couldn’t be changed.

I complained and asked if they had changed their format. The person who replied said she had checked and that they *hadn’t* changed the format and told me to contact the manufacturer of my ereaders, because the problem was with my ereaders. And that I should just re-download the books (which I had done 3 times at that point). When I explained it most definitely wasn’t a problem with my readers, and that the font couldn’t be changed in Adobe Digital Editions either, she asked me to provide screenshots. I did, over a week ago, and haven’t yet heard back from them.

And now that I read what you wrote, what annoys me is that they had to know there is a problem, but still they claimed they hadn’t changed formats and asked me to provide screenshots.

cecilia January 6, 2012 um 6:48 pm

This is pretty much identical to my experience, although the book numbers are a little different.

When I called customer service, I had a young man that didn’t blame my reader (a Sony), but kept asking me the same questions over and over – what type of reader, what’s the title of the book, have you tried re-downloading the Kobo app. When I told him I have never ever used the Kobo app, and that it wasn’t just one book, but 5 , he just kept getting flustered and putting me on hold. Eventually he said they were going to get back to me. I said, "OK, how will they do that when you haven’t asked me any personal information?" He said, "Isn’t this Linda?" "Um, no." "OK, then can I ask for your personal information?" It was bizarre.

The call was a week ago, and I haven’t heard anything. I also haven’t been buying any new books from Kobo, just the places where the books aren’t giving me any problems.

Tim December 25, 2012 um 1:36 pm

When you call Kobo support, you’re not speaking with an actual Kobo support person but a Sitel customer representative who’s product knowledge is minimal and whose goal is to get you off the phone as soon as possible.

Keishon January 6, 2012 um 7:58 pm

Interesting. I sent in a ticket for the font problem I was having almost a month ago. They supposedly tested it and said there wasn’t a problem with it…at that time. I emailed one of the Kobo execs and they gave me a refund.

cecilia January 6, 2012 um 8:26 pm

Who did you email?

Rashkae January 6, 2012 um 10:02 pm

A refund or a store credit? I know it’s not really malice on the part of Kobo, but selling a known deffective product, putting up a wall of useless fillibuster support, and finally resolving with a 'store credit' is, in my books, a pretty shaddy business.

zelda pinwheel January 7, 2012 um 10:15 am

I could not agree more Rashkae (except for the bit about the malice. Deliberately corrupting a standard format so that it only displays properly on your own devices with absolutely no technical justification seems frankly malicious to me). I am still waiting to hear from them after I got one of their crappy kepubs and asked for a refund, and even if they do refund me I won’t be purchasing from them in future.

Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity for a new year January 6, 2012 um 8:26 pm

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Daniel December 7, 2015 um 8:16 pm

Just uploaded my first book to Kobo. This is December, 2015. The formatting looks terrible. I bought a copy of my own book to check it out. I’m using the Kobo app on Android.

The problem is that you can resize the page as you read, something other e-readers don’t let you do. And as you resize, spaces appear between words that shouldn’t be there. This is most likely because my text is full-justified and the Kobo app can’t handle that properly. It tries to justify each line and breaks up words in the middle by adding extra spaces or by adding spaces just inside quotation marks. (I uploaded the same file to Amazon and had no problems, but don’t let that fool you. I’m no fan of Amazon.)

I don’t know if you’ve seen any improvement since this post was started in 2012. What I’m seeing doesn’t work for me. I’m going to try to turn off full-justification in my file and upload it again. I can’t turn on/off justification in the Kobo app.

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