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Kindle & Epub is not as impossible as you might think

You might have noticed that the pirates at posted an implausible story yesterday where they claimed that Amazon might soon offer Epub for the Kindle.

Naturally this caught everyone’s attention, and it’s been picked up by a number of blogs, passed around on Twitter, and debated endlessly. I still think it’s crap, but I was debating it a friend and he came up with a plausible way it might work.

I have a couple technical reasons for disbelieving the rumor (I’ve covered this before), and I think they’re pretty good ones: legacy devices and legacy ebooks. If Amazon switch to Epub they would have to abandon their customers who have older Kindles because the cost of updating the firmware is too high. They’d also have to do something about all the existing ebooks already in Kindle format. You can’t assume that they will convert well; there are too many quirks from too many sources for that to happen.

Here’s my friend’s idea.  Rather than switch to Epub entirely, he thinks Amazon could keep the Kindle format for internal use and then offer Epub as an on-demand option. This would let Amazon expand their market without having to cut off existing customers.

If Amazon did this, then they would be able to compete with B&N for Nook ebook customers. Given that B&N are credited with being the #2 ebookstore in the US, I bet Amazon are thinking about best to compete with them.

Sidenote: we know this model could work because Kobo are already using it.

The legacy ebooks could also be dealt with, but it would require some finesse. Amazon could always automate the conversion, but i think it would be better to  encourage producers to go back and update their ebooks. Amazon would need provide some incentive (either carrot or stick). The carrot would be the value of expanding your potential market. Imagine all the new potential customers.

The other encouragement would be Amazon’s 70% royalty option. Right now that option has a couple requirements (pricing, TTS enabled, etc). Amaozn might decide to add Epub as a requirement. That would generate a lot of ebooks, wouldn’t it?

I still think the rumor is BS, but I have to admit that there’s no technical objection to it.

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Mike Cane May 19, 2011 um 12:17 pm

There’s never been a real technical objection to it. As you say, Kobo uses different files based on point of entry (Kobo device or platform software). But nothing stops B&N from dropping their restrictive mutant variant of Adobe DRM, either — yet they haven’t.

karen wester newton May 19, 2011 um 12:30 pm

Publishers have been delivering ePub to Amazon for a while, but Amazon just used that to convert to Mobi. The new part is that the book could be purchased as an ePub book. If that is true, I wonder if a Kindle owner could then send or a sideload an ePub book to a Kindle? That would be nice; right now Amazon doesn’t offer the ePub-to-Mobi conversion to end users.

Geert Meijer May 19, 2011 um 12:40 pm

"restrictive mutant variant"????
– B&N has licensed its DRM to Adobe and Adobe’s latest software for e-readers includes support for the DRM.
– No ADE needed.
– You can share books with an unlimited number of devices by just copying the book to the device.
– The encryption is completely enclosed within the book. No authentication server, online connection needed. Not tied to any hardware or software id.
– Quote from Teleread comments:
"Also, Kindle Director Jay Marine told Len Edgerly that Amazon won’t be using Adobe’s DRM. No additional software will need to be downloaded or used".
Perhaps Amazon will also be using password protected ePub like B&N. Much more user friendly than Adobe DRM and no special software needed.

Nate Hoffelder May 19, 2011 um 1:17 pm

It’s a mutant variation because

1, you can’t read B&N ebooks on ADE and
2, no one else supports it.

I don’t usually use words as harsh as Mike’s but I do agree in principle.

Mike Cane May 19, 2011 um 8:17 pm

>>>Perhaps Amazon will also be using password protected ePub like B&N.

Don’t be silly. Amazon has its own DRM and it can be put onto ePub just as easily as any other DRM.

elmonica May 19, 2011 um 1:41 pm

I hope you are right that the "pirates" are misstaken, because I would expect that the team at eBookNewser with its resources and connections to the book publishing industry, would be the first to break such a story if it were true.

Toke Riis Ebbesen May 19, 2011 um 1:41 pm

I think Amazon is behaving in many ways like the Apple of books. Hardware legacies has never been a problem for Apple, in favor of moving forward to "modern" standards.

I also think that the thought of Amazon delivering epubs that could be readable on other readers would require some kind of DRM. I just don’t see Amazon supporting Adobe DRM, competing with their own ecosystem. In other words: if Amazon chose to deliver epub to end customers they would bolt their own DRM onto their epub files. Which is perfectly possible from a technical standpoint.

elmonica May 19, 2011 um 1:45 pm

They could also offer an incentive for people to trade in those old Kindles for new Kindles.

fjtorres May 19, 2011 um 4:20 pm

For that matter, Amazon could easily deliver both mobi and epub in a single universal file readable as an epub by anybody licensing amazon’s drm.
There just is no reason to do so.

The only folks who care overmuch about epub vs mobi are hobbyists and enthusiasts.
(Ditto for DRM, vendor dominance, or other pundit hand-wringing issues)
Mainstream ebook buyers care about ebook price and availability first, second, and last.
As long as kindles sell by the million and readers tied to Adept sell by the tens of thousands Amazon doesn’t need epub for anything more than inputs for conversion to mobi.

And, realistically, the last thing epub needs is another DRM-ladden variant.

LCNR May 19, 2011 um 8:38 pm

Well, for one thing, epub vs. mobi _does_ have an impact on e-book availability and price, since depending on which format you choose, you won’t always be able to buy from the same stores. Plus it will become an issue when the one takes serious precedence over the other — especially if you’ve gone for the wrong one; I don’t know exactly how mobi’s doing nowadays, but one thing is sure, I hear a lot more about epub than mobi (except as in "AZW, Amazon’s closed ecosystem format", which in my view seriously restricts its potential).

And as for DRM, readers _should_ care because of what it represents, and especially mainstream buyers because they’re likely to be most affected by it as they’re less likely to be able to circumvent it like the hobbyists and enthusiasts. So I think it’s a good thing that there’s some hand-wringing going on as long as it’s constructive, because just saying "who cares" is precisely the kind of attitude that some companies (such as Amazon here, but also all other DRM-publishers) are counting on in order to get away with anti-consumer decisions.


fjtorres May 19, 2011 um 9:06 pm

Consumers do many things pundits say they shouldn’t do.
And ignoring annointed standards is at the top of the list.
(Just ask the linux crowd or anybody competing against apple.)
Pretending that harping on the "evils" of the market leaders is going to sway the market has been futile for five decades and counting; all it does is reassure the masses that they are making the "safe" choice and make a steady procession of pundits look foolish.

And pretending that lock-in to adobe or apple is somehow superior than lock-in to amazon is pretty delusional in the face of market numbers that show that if anybody is going to face buyer’s remorse over their Lock-in of choice it’s not going to be Amazon’s customers.

The market buys what the market wants, whether it be IBM 360, MS-DOS, WINDOWS, iPods, or Kindles.

LCNR May 20, 2011 um 6:45 pm

Ah, but my point is precisely not to trade Amazon lock-in for any other kind of lock-in but to encourage those publishers who offer the most open format, and that means DRM-free epub. I read my books on a Bookeen Opus (no tie-in) and I only buy from e-book stores that offer DRM-free books. True, I’m lucky to be a science-fiction fan, because that’s one genre where several publishers (in Anglo-Saxon countries, but also, surprisingly enough, because we’re way behind, in France) are way ahead of their competitors (and it does seem to be working for them) — but there are still thousand of DRM-free, professionally edited books out there (and not just in the public domain), even though it means forgoing most new mainstream publications.

What I meant is that it’s not just the pundits that should be wringing their hands, and, more to the point, that we should all be trying to do something about it. Buying only DRM-free books in order to encourage publishers to switch to an open format is a start; and if I tell another reader about it, maybe they’ll think about it, and maybe they’ll end up doing the same, and maybe _they’ll_ tell somebody else about it. (Look at me: I’ve been using Windows for twenty years, and now I’m finally switching over to Linux.) There’s only one thing less certain than the real, long-term interests of consumers prevailing by trying to do something about it, and that’s their prevailing by not doing anything.


Peter May 19, 2011 um 5:16 pm

If Amazon wants to win Epub converts, then they need to offer a Kindle that READS ADE, NOOK-DRM, and Apple epub books.

Noone cares what format they supply their own books in.

fjtorres May 19, 2011 um 6:25 pm

Pardon my bluntness, but why would amazon need any epub converts?
They already have the upper hand and are increasing market share (and profits) by the day?
Why would Amazon waste money and resources supporting (and validating) multiple DRM schemes when one scheme is enough to pacify publishers?
People seem to think that 100% market share is a necessary goal to pursue when the reality is some customers just aren’t worth pursuing. Amazon is doing fine with the best ebookstore, the highest-selling gadget, and a full set of compatible reader apps.
If some people need the security blanket of an annointed multi-vendor format before they’ll buy, I suspect Amazon will be more than happy to cede that slice of the market to their competitors.

igorsk May 19, 2011 um 5:36 pm

"It turns out that Kindlegen stashes a copy of the original ePub sources inside its output file"

elmonica May 19, 2011 um 7:20 pm

Here is an opinion from Liz Castro…..fools!!!!!

Mike Cane May 19, 2011 um 8:20 pm

Come back when she’s wrong so we can all shout FOOL! at YOU. Eejit.

elmonica May 19, 2011 um 8:25 pm

You will be eating crow about the epub standard in any case.

fjtorres May 19, 2011 um 8:38 pm

Which epub "standard"?

Standards are about interoperability and epubs aren’t all that interoperable to start with. Add Amazon to the mix and you might as well start digging graves.

jorgen May 20, 2011 um 1:23 pm

Excellent point.

jorgen May 20, 2011 um 1:23 pm

My comment was an answer to fjtorres at 8:38 pm

LCNR May 20, 2011 um 7:03 pm

I’m not sure about this, but I seem to understand that the reason there are several variants of the epub standard is that different companies implement different types of DRM. Is that correct?

In that case, as I see it, the underlying issue is DRM: there can never be a truly open format unless/until DRM is done away with. Seeing as it is an insult to customers and won’t ever prevent piracy but will rather encourage it, we must hope and help companies (sadly, the majority, and the biggest, too) to realize that it’s in everybody’s interest to get rid of it.


LCNR May 20, 2011 um 7:04 pm

Oops, sorry, I meant to reply to fjtorres’s comment of 08:38 pm.

elmonica May 19, 2011 um 8:52 pm


I am referring to a post he made about EPUBs being dead on his blog. Regardless of what Amazon does I think the notion that EPUB is dead is ridiculous.

Chris May 19, 2011 um 8:22 pm

I don’t think it’s likely that Amazon will try to sell ePub to Nook (etc) owners.
If they did, then who’d buy a Kindle which could only by from Amazon – everyone would buy a Nook(etc) which could buy from Amazon _and_ everywhere else.
I think, as other have said, Amazon will sell ePubs with their own DRM, which will only be readable on Kindle (& apps). You’ll be able to read non-DRM ePub on your Kindle, but not ADE ePubs.

Nate Hoffelder May 19, 2011 um 8:37 pm

That’s actually pretty simple. The Kindle has a decent set of features that will not make it over to Epub (assuming Amazon sell it).

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