Thursday, April 21, 2011

OverDrive says Kindle will support EPUB and PDF

Yesterday, Amazon announced the new Kindle Library Lending Program. They haven't offered a lot of details, but one little tidbit written to librarians on one of OverDrive's blogs caught my eye:

Your existing collection of downloadable eBooks will be available to Kindle customers. As you add new eBooks to your collection, those titles will also be available in Kindle format for lending to Kindle and Kindle reading apps. Your library will not need to purchase any additional units to have Kindle compatibility. This will work for your existing copies and units.

Emphasis added by me. And I'll repeat it once more:

Your existing collection...

Currently, public libraries' existing collections consist overwhelmingly of EPUB and PDF files. If those existing files will now work with Kindle, with no additional purchase necessary, the only possible solution is that Kindle will support both EPUB and PDF.

And that is news indeed.


  1. This would be great news indeed, but I have my doubts. “EPUB support” in this context probably means: some Amazon server will automatically convert EPUB to AZW. We can already see the results: devastating, except for simple cases.

  2. @Gerrit: Would such a conversion be so different from KindleGen? Even if you're right, then careful and strict EPUB practices might limit conversion problems, and allow publishers to create single file: EPUB.

  3. I have always thought Amazon will sooner or later support the EPUB format: that's why I don't see a point supporting AZW in my dotEPUB e-book maker (

    I can't imagine Amazon improving on its own the AZW format with new functionality as the rest of the world keeps iterating the EPUB format.

    AZW (mobi) made sense when the choice was made (in the OEBPS days): there wasn't any standard distribution format available. Not anymore: Amazon can ease e-book production and forget about improving the format without losing control: EPUB+AmzDRM, like Apple did.

  4. I read this as OverDrive supplying libraries ePUB and Kindle formats for one price, and implementing this by adding the Kindle version to any books that have already been purchased.

    The majority will no doubt already have Kindle versions produced by their publishers for sale through Amazon.

  5. The conversion will probably be the same as with KindleGen. But many features such as custom fonts, floating objects, and in the future, CSS media queries (one eBook file for all screen sizes), vertical East Asian scripts or native MathML formulas, won’t be supported.

  6. I think you may be jumping to an unwarranted conclusion, Liz. Remember that libraries don't really "own" anything physical by loaning books through Overdrive. Most likely, Overdrive will simply add the Kindle format to the options available for download FROM AMAZON'S KINDLE STORE database.

    Amazon might, eventually, modify Kindle devices and readers to accept EPUB but I suspect this announcement has nothing to do with that.

    I am more inclined to read "from your existing copies and units" as "a new format for titles you're already signed up to distribute."

  7. The problem is that the semantics of the epub you make for Kindle and for other devices must be different (mainly because a lot of things don't work properly in Kindle). so kindlegen can only process/understand things that make sense to mobi format (i.e., no floats, borders, etc).

    It's inevitable that amazon will abandon mobipocket (especially because it shows no signs of increasing css support). I fear that this announcement is merely saying they will run epub files through kindlegen and produce the same old grimy result.

  8. The problem, Liz, is that the only people really trying to implement “careful and strict EPUB practices” are you and me, and even we have trouble because the hardware doesn’t follow them.

    When all of the device makers sit down together and agree that strict EPUB is the way to go (with the occasional and reasonable exception-with-a-purpose, such as Apple’s fixed-layout format), then the world will be an easier place for formatters specifically, and for all book lovers in general.

  9. Can Amazon convert Kindle editions to ePub without permission of the publisher?

  10. No no no. Overdrive is going to offer Kindle format in addition to ePub. That is quite clear if you read all the official communications from Amazon and Overdrive. This is not when Amazon adopts ePub (if that ever happens).

    I expect that Amazon will actually fulfill the lending requests, since only they have access to the user accounts and device IDs needed to do so, and would not want to share access to that information with anyone. With Adobe DRM, Overdrive doesn't need to know anything about user IDs, it is all handled by Adobe's client-side libraries (ADE and the ADE SDK). All Overdrive needs is the ASIN of the Kindle edition of the book, and they'll supply that and the lending details to an Amazon hosted page, where the user will supply their Amazon account credentials and which of their linked devices to prepare download bits for.

    I may well be wrong in some of these details, which may not be all finalized, but the big picture is as I describe, and as can be inferred from the official statements.

  11. There is an article on the BBC news about this shift in Amazon's policy and it seems pretty clear to me that Amazon is NOT going to support ePub format but supply mobi versions.

  12. you can drop an .epub file
    on the kindle previewer and
    get a .mobi file out, without
    all the hassles of kindlegen,
    and that's undoubtedly the
    method amazon will use,
    except save the conversion
    as a temporary file instead
    of a permanent one, which
    is fine for "lending" purpose.

    but it's quite a stretch from
    that to say that amazon is
    "supporting" .epub now...


    given all the inconsistencies
    across .epub viewer-apps,
    which make a joke of any
    use of the word "standard",
    why would amazon crawl
    in that snake-infested pit?

    when amazon does change
    from the .mobi format, it'll
    adopt a _superior_ format,
    one which does not carry
    excess baggage like .epub.

    and it will become the new
    "standard", a de facto one...

    ironically, the person who
    used to give great credence
    to the de facto standard of
    .pdf -- bill mccoy -- now
    is the head of the i.d.p.f.,
    and fights a losing battle.


  13. I agree with Bowerbird,
    You can drag you .epub right on the kindle previewer and get your kindle file.
    I read it the same way as the rest of you that amazon will just have some kinda of conversion from .epub to .mobi.

    The Epub book industry really need to get together and agree on one format for all epub devices. It would make Epub creation a lot easier for all who are trying to design and sell books for all devices. When you have to format books for Kindel which is years behind the ball for css support, since people are still using and buying books with their fist generation kindels.
    I love the advance css in other devices but really you don't want to have to create 5 different epubs for each device.
    Then you have Adobe Digital Editions which needs to put some basic fonts in the application so people don't have to embedd fonts just to get a standard accent or character to show. Since all these other devices can display it because their devices have preloaded fonts.

    sorry for the rant.

  14. Amazon has said they will SYNC the borrowed books and back up annotations on those borrowed books and make the annotations available if the person RE-borrows the book OR buys the book later.

    They can do that ONLY if the borrowed books match their Amazon/Mobi versions with location numbers (which would not be a part of ePub files).

    As Tom says, Overdrive will almost surely just pass the approved to-be-borrowed title to Amazon who would handle the download and still use their own DRM.

    Then Amazon would do its usual server monitoring of last-page-read and annotations, which they actually say they will do.

    Again, this can be done only if someone is serving the customer a Kindle/Mobi formatted book.

    The existing "Collection" for a library or other partner of Overdrive is not affected because the collection is actually of TITLES and the titles won't be affected -- they'll just have an additional selection to offer the borrower (as Overdrive has said), - a choice of destination reader for that customer's borrowed title. The libraries need to purchase just one title (though they can buy add'l licenses so more 'copies' can be lent at the same time).

  15. The announcement that "your existing collection of downloadable eBooks will be available to Kindle customers..." implies that Amazon is not planning to sell eBooks in ePub format, but will be issuing firmware and software updates that will allow Kindle reader devices and apps to read eBooks in the ePUB format! There's no read for Amazon to convert ePub files to Kindle format to make the file readable by a Kindle reader device or app. All that's needed is a simple firmware or software update!


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