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Why the "I hope Epub kills Kindle format" fanatics are fighting the wrong battle

Di you catch the Epub/Kindle editorial on ZDNet on Friday? The authors are wrong, but it’s still worth a read.

Here is the part that caught my eye:

But there is one thing that’s keeping me from whipping out the AMEX and clicking the “Buy Now” button at Amazon, and that’s the lack of EPUB support.

Frankly, I really don’t understand why Amazon would leave this out of their current generation of devices. I can understand why they would want to continue with AZW and their own DRM for content sold on their own store, but frankly, Amazon doesn’t sell every electronic book that you can possibly buy.

The problem with this type of article is that they are written by geeks, not the average user. I know the authors are geeks because the average user isn’t aware of the file format.

You see, there’s one thing that Amazon learned early on that most some  geeks haven’t realized yet: the file doesn’t matter. It’s the user experience that matters. The ideal UX is one where the user never has to know any technical info beyond basic operation, and Amazon have pulled that off. That’s why the Kindle format is winning.

Everyone who has been arguing Epub vs Kindle needs to step back and rethink how you’re advocating your preferred format. If you want Epub to win then start hawking the tools, not the file.

The file doesn’t  matter.

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The Million Dollar Question « Mike Cane's xBlog August 22, 2010 um 7:56 pm

[…] then, does that matter if it’s Amazon’s world now? See this: Why the “I hope Epub kills Kindle format” fanatics are fighting the wrong battle Published […]

NottaGeek November 19, 2010 um 10:41 am

The Files Matter – I am spending a lot of money to download these files – I need to know if my file will be compatible with other devices in the future. It’s kinda like choosing beta vs. vhs or laser disc vs dvd. Which file is going to win? I dont want to spend hundreds of $$$ on kindle files if epub will be around longer and is more universally compatible with other devices but the same goes for epub.

kjkbook August 22, 2010 um 8:37 pm

I agree. Amazon has done a pretty amazing thing in the digital world of content-they have made the file format basically irrelevant to the typical end user.

Amazon could completely replace their internal Kindle format (either the format, the DRM, or both!) every year, and the vast majority of people wouldn’t notice any difference, as long as the ecosystem (Kindle, Kindle4PC, Kindle App) still read the books without a hitch.

Alexander Inglis August 22, 2010 um 8:51 pm

Absolutely correct. While Amazon could enable non-DRM ePub on Kindle devices, they would never actually sell ePubs — just like they support PDF but don’t sell those.

To avoid all of us having to pay Amazon’s royalty costs to Adobe, perhaps Amazon could sell a per Kindle "patch" that allowed the device to read DRM ePub. Then each user can make up his own mind. It would also open Kindle up to the Overdrive public library system, again without having to actually sell ePubs itself.

Moriah Jovan August 22, 2010 um 10:31 pm

Only a couple of commenters actually came up with the right answer and that is: Amazon’s not selling hardware. They’re selling electronic files.

Why would they allow their product–designed to facilitate the easy (sometimes careless/accidental) purchase of their widget–to read somebody else’s (free) files without a great deal of effort on the user’s part?

As for the library gripe, see above. So not in the P&L mission statement.

They *may* consider EPUB capability in the future some time, but only if they figure they can make a few cents off it–a large volume of a few cents. (That’s me, hedging my bet.)

MOBI wins.

Not that I care. Just sayin'.

Piet van Oostrum August 22, 2010 um 11:20 pm

It does matter. Certainly now the Kindle has gone international. Amazon doesn’t have many Dutch ebooks (or other languages thanin general). However, the Kindle is priced quite attractively. And here the main shop for buying ebooks is which sells epub. So it is attractive for a user here to buy a Kindle from Amazon, the find out there aren’t many Dutch books, buy them from and be surprised that it doesn’t work. The same has happened to people that wanted to read ebooks on an iPad.

I guess there will also be USA buyers that want to shop around and buy for example from B&N or Kobo, because although Amazon has a large selection of ebooks, they don’t have everything.

Tanushri August 23, 2010 um 4:00 am

Readers don’t care about file formats… as long as they’re getting the books they want. The minute they start being deprived, they’re going to quickly understand the difference between EPUB and Amazon, and between the Kindle and the Nook.

As someone about to go back to school next month, I was all gung ho about buying a Kindle until I realized most of my text books were available as EPUBs. And since I’m going to study in the UK, I can’t buy the Nook. So suddenly I go from a happy clueless consumer to being frustrated with Amazon. That transition didn’t take very long!

Scott August 23, 2010 um 12:21 pm

Actually users do care about formats. A lot of the issues around portable music devices centered on formats. Even Apple ended up changing their device to allow for MP3s. Just look at Video formats, there are dozens of formats out there. The most successful players are the ones that play the most common formats.

EReaders are no different. Ultimately any device that is not compatible with the most common formats will suffer in the marketplace. I won’t buy a kindle for that very reason. Just like I refused to by any an IPhone or an IPad. I refuse to let the makers of hardware determine what I can use that hardware with. I will simply wait until the marketplace creates a device that meets my needs, which the kindle doesn’t.

Frank Skornia August 23, 2010 um 5:06 pm

@Scott – You said,"Ultimately any device that is not compatible with the most common formats will suffer in the marketplace."

I remember reading an article examining the differences between American English and British English and one idea from that article still stands out to me. If the majority of a people speak a specific dialect of a language (in this case American English) at what point do you consider that to be the main dialect regardless of origins?

The same thought can apply for eBook formats. There is a lot of talk about ePub being the de facto standard for eBooks, but lately there is the talk that Amazon has or is approaching 60% marketshare in the eReader market, and who knows what they’re doing in the eBook market? At what point does ePub become a forgotten standard because Amazon has dominated the marketplace with its own format? If the majority of people are reading Amazon’s format or using the Kindle platform (either the Kindle device or any of the Kindle apps), would it not start making better sense for that to be considered the standard format for eBooks and not some other format that is only a standard by agreement?

Nathanael August 25, 2010 um 12:43 am

"Amazon has or is approaching 60% marketshare"

Two notes: first, 60% of the US market only, and it did so largely in a competitive vacuum; when the Kindle appeared in 2007 there just wasn’t any serious competition. Three years on, the landscape has shift dramatically. The Nook is eating into Kindle marketshare (accounting for 53% of ereader sales in Q1 by DigiTimes estimates), and the iPad has sold more iPads in three months than Amazon can hope to sell Kindles in a year. Both natively support ePub.

And there’s an awful lot of market outside US borders, where competition is far stiffer than it was in the US in 2007, where ePub predominates, and where Amazon’s marketshare often begins with a decimal point. Amazon is late to the party in the EU, and hasn’t even arrived yet here in China (where I can’t find an ereader that doesn’t support ePub, and where the Kindle can’t be had for love or money).

Let’s also not forget that the Kindle rode to its success on the back of the whole Amazon ecosphere, without which the Kindle is a truly mediocre reading machine. But outside US borders, that ecosphere is at the moment largely notable only for its absence. Amazon may indeed ultimately be successful in propagating its ecosphere — and hence the Kindle — internationally, but it will take several years at any rate, and that’s an eternity in techno-years.

Any pronouncements of the death of ePub — or the triumph of AZW — are premature.

Note two: the "users don’t care about format" argument is true, but may not be as relevant as people seem to think. The whole history of the Internet is one long story of open standards triumphing against proprietary technology. Not because users cared — most Internet users don’t have a clue what HTML or POP3 or TCP/IP are — but because open standards work. Interoperability is more important than many are willing to give it credit for. End-users are not necessarily the decisive factor.

My guess is whatever ebook format ultimately triumphs will be an open standard. That standard could be ePub. It could even be AZW, if Amazon decides to open it. But I don’t believe it will be proprietary.

kjkbook August 24, 2010 um 9:49 am

Apple never "changed their devices" to allow for MP3s. They always supported MP3. What they sold, and still sell, is AAC. Which just helps prove the point that no one cares about formats.

Man of la Book August 23, 2010 um 4:04 pm

Readers do care about format. Public libraries lend out eBooks as ePubs – since, as you noted, users aren’t geeks, they don’t want to bother converting the formats – they just want it to work.

Nate the great August 23, 2010 um 5:24 pm

I have to disagree. That’s an ability that someone might want, not a format. You can also borrow PDF and Mobipocket ebooks from your library.

Walter September 19, 2010 um 7:49 pm

Except that the popular new releases at our library are ONLY available in ePub

Alex August 24, 2010 um 12:02 am

As if the debates for:
– free/open format
– free/open software
– free/open access
most coming from the geek was all crap, oh come on!

John August 24, 2010 um 2:05 am

The Kindle UX is only good as long as you stay within the ecosystem of the Kindle. My idea of an ideal user experience is being able to go to any store to pick up media and have a reasonable expectation that I can consume it on whatever device I prefer. I can buy an ePub book and read it on many non-Kindle readers. I can buy a Nook and read ePubs from many different stores. It’s when I start looking at the Kindle or AZW that I have to start worrying about compatibility and the ideal UX starts to break down. I’m with ZDNet here. E-readers should try to support as many formats as possible as the way to make file formats transparent.

Nathanael August 25, 2010 um 12:52 am

@John: "The Kindle UX is only good as long as you stay within the ecosystem of the Kindle."

I agree. Within the US, however, Amazon has built such an all-encompassing ecosphere that most Kindle users never feel a need to step outside it. Can you name a book that can’t be bought at Amazon? Or one that can be bought cheaper elsewhere?

You (and I, by the way) may enjoy doing our ebook shopping elsewhere, but I truly doubt many Kindle owners feel the same way. Amazon’s ecosystem may be a jail cell, but it’s a posh prison all the same.

Walter September 19, 2010 um 7:52 pm

We haven’t bought a book in years.

But we probably average over a dozen a month from our library.

I will NOT buy an e-reader that does not support ePub.

The Rust Belt September 28, 2010 um 6:07 am

You see, there’s one thing that Amazon learned early on that most geeks haven’t realized yet: the file doesn’t matter. It’s the user experience that matters. The ideal UX is one where the user never has to know any technical info beyond basic operation, and Amazon have pulled that off. That’s why the Kindle format is winning.

The funny thing is Amazon does not agree with you at all. They know formats do matter for Kindle buyers. This is why they designed the Kindle to let it open PDFs or MOBIs and this is why they improved Kindle’s PDF reading capabilities (which they proudly advertise). They even think being able to get other formats converted into AZWs via Whispernet is one of the most important selling points of Kindle.

Nate the great September 28, 2010 um 6:33 am

I disagree.

Strip off the DRM and MOBI is Kindle and Kindle is MOBI. They are the exact same file.

And PDF support is so bad on the Kindle that I’m surprised you’re claiming it as a plus.

GeoffMontreal October 8, 2010 um 12:31 am

wait a minute. so if you are interested in buying a book, say in a different language that is not sold by Amazon but is available everywhere else in THE INDUSTRY STANDARD ePub format, then that makes you a "geek" and "wrong"?

you should probably do a bit more research before blogging your ignorance

Amazon reaches ebook sales tipping point as print book publishers face April Fool’s. | Web Practices Blog by Michele Bartram May 21, 2011 um 12:45 am

[…] Nate Hoffelder says in his August 2010 blog post “Why the “I hope Epub kills Kindle format” fanatics are fighting the wrong battle”: Everyone who has been arguing Epub vs Kindle needs to step back and rethink how you’re advocating […]

Twonko August 11, 2013 um 4:44 am

Strip out the drm and you can convert mobi to ePub and vice versa. No problem.

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