Thursday, May 19, 2011

Amazon will fully support EPUB (I think)

I've believed for a long time that Amazon couldn't possibly stick with what is clearly an inferior format (Mobi). Mobi vs EPUB is like Mosaic vs Firefox 4. There is simply no comparison.

And lately there have been more and more clues that something is shifting.

A few weeks ago, Overdrive said that they would be supporting Kindles and most importantly, that libraries wouldn't have to buy new files. Indeed, their "existing collection of downloadable eBooks will be available to Kindle customers" and "work for existing copies and units".

Most everyone pooh-poohed the EPUB angle and said that it didn't mean that Amazon would support EPUB. In particular, they said that Amazon wouldn't want to leave behind its legacy readers... the Kindle 1 and 2, and all of the customers who already use those readers. Instead, they said Kindle would simply convert the EPUB files on the fly to Mobi, and then display the Mobi formatted ebooks. They said that Amazon has been accepting EPUB files from publishers for years and converting them.

Then yesterday (was it only yesterday?), there was a post on what I fear now is a pretty questionable blog, that claims that “soon the Kindle ereader will have the full capability to read ePub books”. Much of the wording in the article was almost intentionally ambiguous, and didn't necessarily rule out Amazon continuing to convert EPUB files to Mobi. But the post still generated enormous interest and discussion.

And then today, I found a comment to one of the discussions about whether or not Amazon would truly support EPUB (without conversion to MOBI) that mentioned that the Kindle Previewer has been able to open EPUB files since September.

I downloaded Kindle Previewer (again) and opened up my new Audio and Video in EPUB miniguide. (Sorry, had to get that in there :). Kindle Previewer converted my EPUB file to Mobi in a few seconds. It didn't look amazing, but it was readable. And the videos played:

Kindle for iPad Previewer

Now why would Amazon want its Kindle Previewer to be able to read EPUB files, albeit in a simplified way? It's because of the legacy readers. If a Kindle can convert EPUB to Mobi on the fly, that means all of those older Kindles are still viable (if barely). And all of those customers are still happy.

More importantly, it means that new Kindles can embrace EPUB whole-heartedly. Perhaps on a new color tablet. (With Mobi? I don't think so.) With audio and video. With all the interactivity that seems imminent with EPUB3.

Again, let's look at what happened on the web. Browser developers wanted to upgrade their offerings without leaving legacy websites behind. They figured out ways of reading those old sites while embracing all the new features available in succeeding versions of both HTML and CSS. Some of those systems were more successful than others, but not a single one said, "No, we can only support HTML 3.2 because that's what our users' websites were written in."

Publishers want the control over what their books are going to look like. They don't want to depend on KindleGen. And they want the features, call them bells and whistles if you must, available in EPUB.

I believe that Amazon's strategy is to convert EPUB to Mobi for legacy Kindles and support real EPUB in the next Kindle. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am.

P.S. Do I have a horse in the race? Sure. I wrote a book about EPUB. But I wrote the book because I think EPUB is awesome. I love that people can publish their own beautiful ebooks with audio and video with little more than HTML and CSS. I love it that you can tinker with the code. I love that EPUB is growing and changing and adapting. Sure, I want Amazon to support EPUB, but I also think it's the logical thing to do.


  1. I'm tending to agree with you here. However, if so, I think Amazon is going to need some means of controlling the number of files that will essentially self-destruct on internal auto-conversion on the current crop of devices, while allowing for a richer experience on the upcoming tablets. They might have to allow for the capability of a double submission.

  2. Liz, this is a very good post summarizing everything that was said on the subject during the last 24 hours, especially on Twitter. What I really like of it is that went out there and came back with a pretty good piece of game to prove your guess. What are those features there for? Only for library books? Maybe, but a company like Amazon thinks strategically.
    BTW, some senior Amazon staff joined the EPUB discussion group at LinkedIn. Maybe it's just another coincidence.
    Thank you for writing this.

  3. I think you are right. Plus the bloggers who are usually wrong about these kinds of things are on the other side of the issue.

  4. Overdrive also said that libraries buy ONE title and the borrower will be able to select between ePub or Amazon format, or what they called the destination device.

    The libraries don't buy a specifically formatted file but a title that can be delivered in either format whenever this happens. An Overdrive manager said this. See for the quote.

    That's all we know from Overdrive at the moment. We also are told by Amazon that it will track last-page read (presumably using location #'s as they do now) and sync the borrowed books between various devices and save the annotations which can be seen again by that user if they choose to re-borrow or buy the book later.

    Amazon has said they won't be using Adobe DRM and that they waited until it was 'right' and done in a 'seamless' way, downloadable within 60 seconds after completing library borrowing process and requiring no additional software or download.

    Amazon will be sync'g with a copy of the ebook on their server. How they do this will be the question.

    Seems to me they worked out a way to provide library books with their own DRM.

    Ebooks can be submitted by publishers. That was the gist today. I haven't read yet a quote that said other-DRM'd epub books would be readable on the Kindle.

    I think it's about time they allowed Kindle owners to read non-DRM'd ePub books at the least. They did buy Stanza.

    I'd love it if they could at least provide the layout features of ePub in some coming combo format maybe.

  5. By the way, I love your blog entry title :-)

  6. The problem with on the fly conversion of library ebooks is that the expired DRM may get in the way.

  7. Is it possible to load the ePUB or Mobi into Kindle for Ipad in Apple iPad device? If so please advise...

  8. So now they will allow ePubs Amazon surely have to revisit the license fees they charge per Mb/per download. This cripples (financially) enhanced ePubs on Kindle. Unless i've missed something...

  9. Michael,
    Amazon charges 15c per megabyte *for only 3G-Cellular Wireless delivery of a non-Amazon file* that its servers receive directly from the customer (via email) and then forwards to the customer's Kindle. (The earlier Kindles don't have WiFi)

    Amazon (rather than the customer) pays for 3G web-lookups (slow browsing) at any time for 3G Kindles in 61 countries: that includes site-visits (to Wikipedia, Google and most other sites). No add'l cost to the customer on those.

    But, as explained, they charge customers averaged-3G-costs *ONLY for documents that a customer chooses to send to their Kindle via 3G cell phone networks to Amazon servers* which then forwards these non-Amazon 'personal documents' -- even converting Word doc files to Kindle format -- to the customer's Kindle.

    They don't charge a size-fee for WiFi delivery of personal documents of course.

    International customers buying from Amazon U.S. often have to pay an additional $2 or so for averaged add'l operational costs where Amazon doesn't have special telecomm agreements.

  10. liz said:
    > I believe that
    > Amazon's strategy is
    > to convert EPUB to Mobi
    > for legacy Kindles
    > and support real EPUB
    > in the next Kindle.
    > I could be wrong,
    > but I don't think I am.

    you could be right, but
    where is any evidence?

    i see absolutely no evidence,
    none in the slightest. sorry.


  11. But when you open an epub in Kindle Previewer, isn't Previewer simply converting the file to .mobi and reading that? I don't think it's actually reading the epub file.

  12. The reason (IMHO) why Amazon has ePub support in Kindle Previewer is so that publishers submitting ePub as the source will be able to see how they'll look on a Kindle and know if they need to do any tweaking to fix anything. This is not saying that Amazon is moving to ePub.

    Do you honestly think Bezos is going to give up control and allow ePub? No. He won't. It would be like Apple changing their DRM to Adept.

  13. When I heard that Amazon might be allowing epub, and the rumor that it already worked, I just created a document in Pages on the Mac with those epub parameters, saved it in epub, and uploaded it to the kdp. It worked just fine. At least on that day, and a few days later when I did another one kdp accepted an .epub file. If you are publishing on Kindle, go ahead and give it a try.

  14. Let's just leave Kindle in the dust. My epub has 62 minutes of original music. How can I profit with a .15 x 100 MB = €15 "Delivery Charge" ? Amazon is dust. I'd rather be cinders. -- Steven Mc Callum


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