Is Amazon sitting on the Mobipocket iPhone client after all?

In the entry I wrote the other day about the missing Mobipocket reader for Windows, I gave Amazon the benefit of the doubt. However, I have lately come into some information that suggests I might not have been justified to do so.

What We Know

What we know for certain is that, in May of 2008, a Mobipocket and Mobileread forum poster attended the International Digital Publishers' Forum, saw Mobipocket President and CEO Martin Gorner's talk, and later posted to the forums that "[Gorner said that by] the end of the year, Mobipocket will release updated readers for the various platforms, as well as release a new reader for the Apple iPhone."

Also, in October, when I talked to Gorner on the phone, he said that they were "working on something" but had no statement to give at that time.

The benefit of an official Mobipocket reader for the iPhone would be that iPhone and iPod Touch owners would be able to read DRM-crippled books on their devices without cracking the encryption and thereby breaking the law. (Or, in many cases, could read the books on them at all, since not everyone is technologically savvy enough to perform the decryption.) This would also encourage iPhone owners to buy new Mobipocket-format books—and might also encourage people who had bought many Mobipocket-format books in the past to buy an iPhone for their next device.

We also know that Amazon owns Mobipocket, and uses the Mobipocket file format in their Kindle e-book reader. The fact that Amazon has a vested interest in pushing its Kindle ahead of competitors, and that the iPhone platform is one of very few e-book reading platforms set to give the Kindle a run for its money, has led some to speculate that Amazon might have quashed such a reader before it could be released. All the better to encourage people to buy Kindles.

But this has remained unfounded speculation—until now.

An Anonymous Source

Today I heard from a highly-placed source who spoke to me on strict condition of anonymity. This source told me that he or she knew for a fact that Mobipocket had its iPhone reader complete and ready to ship as of August—but did not permit them to release it.

I contacted’s press hotline and left a recording to ask for a comment. Amazon had not responded to me by press time. I telephoned Martin Gorner in France to ask him about it. He said that he still had no announcements to make concerning the client, and had no comment on my source’s statement.

Of course, when you come right down to it, this is information based solely on a single anonymous source. And while I personally find the anonymous source credible, I cannot go into why I do so. Therefore, let me be clear in what I am claiming.

I cannot state for a fact that Amazon forced Mobipocket not to release the client. It’s not an allegation I can prove. But I can state that someone I find credible claims they did—and that certainly adds a lot of weight to the speculation.


If we assume the speculation is correct, the question remains: did Amazon just want the client out of the way for the holiday season (which would seem rather asinine given that they’ve sold out of the Kindle already), or are they planning to bury it permanently? Do they see an iPhone Mobipocket client as a threat to the Kindle’s dominance? Might there be grounds for an anti-trust investigation?

To a certain extent, a Mobi reader for the iPhone is becoming less important day by day, as Fictionwise moves toward making more of its Mobipocket-only selection available in secure eReader format. The sooner Mobipocket is able to release their own client, the less they cede the field to eReader, ePub, and other formats that are on their way to making Mobipocket irrelevant.

11 Comments on Is Amazon sitting on the Mobipocket iPhone client after all?

  1. The news that Fictionwise was working on releasing more of its Mobi-only selections in an ereader format is great news to me. I like the ereader application. I have lots of ereader formatted books. I don’t mind (very much) the ereader DRM.

    What I don’t want is yet another program to have to use to read my books, and have to remember “was that book in mobi or ereader (or epub or PDF) format?”.

    The very few books I have in mobi are from a series where 1 out of 5 or 6 is only available in mobi instead of ereader. I have to convert it to epub to read in Stanza, and I much prefer the ereader program.

    Give me all my books in ereader and I’ll be happy.

  2. You are very right that “a Mobi reader for the iPhone is becoming less important day by day”. There is another reason: Samsung is expected to commercialize OLED notebooks in 2010. With large screen, superior display and powerful functionalities, the OLED notebooks will be used by most people to read ebooks.

  3. The important news for eReader is that they licensed the technology for Stanza (the other iPhone app) so they are able to read eReader protected e-books!

    This may be another nail on Mobipocket’s coffin…

  4. I am not at all sure that notebooks will ever be the best way to read ebooks. A notebook is fine for doing a lot of what is done on the web, but for reading a book, a dedicated ebook reader with a 5-7″ screen (for novels, larger for other sorts of books) is close to the ideal.

    As for the question at hand….

    I think Amazon is showing signs of making the same sorts of mistakes that other companies have made (including Apple) when they are in the business of providing both the hardware and the software/content. Amazon seems most interested in protecting the Kindle when in fact, it is the books that will make them the real money!

    If amazon really wanted to make money, they would open up the Kindle/mobi platform and try to do for ebooks what itunes did for music.

  5. I think this has nothing to do with Kindle vs iPhone dominance, and is all about who becomes the gatekeeper for ebooks.

    Amazon needs to pursue a long-term strategy that keeps ebooks out of iTunes (and also keeps Apple out of ebooks) and makes iPhone users come direct to Amazon. Selling a few books now onto the mobipocket client may not fit that strategy and could undermine it.

    Amazon have demonstrated with the Kindle that getting content onto the device is paramount and that this is the way forward.

    Kindle is unlikely to ever be the dominant ebook device (in the way that iPod has become the dominant PMP) so Amazon need their own client on iPhone. They don’t need a Mobipocket client.

  6. All I know is I loathe DRM-encrypted books and do my best to avoid buying them. I certainly don’t wish to buy again (in secure eReader format) the same books (though I’d consider re-purchasing a book if it’d be in an unsecure format).

    I do have some Secure Mobipocket books I wish to read on my iPhone so now I will be forced to investigate cracking the encryption. On something I already own. Just to read it.

    Yep, there’s logic.

    Repeat after me: Just Say No to DRM!

  7. Clytie Siddall // December 21, 2008 at 2:53 am //

    Evidently I’m insufficiently paranoid, but it didn’t occur to me, when I bought my iPhone recently, that the major ebook reader Mobipocket wouldn’t be available for iPhone. How many books are published in Mobipocket format? How successful is the iPhone (and iPod Touch)? There’s a lot of money to be made here, and Mobipocket aren’t making it. If Amazon is making it at the expense of their subsidiary, it’s still a loss in one form, which makes it far from a splendid business decision. Mobipocket is actually my favourite ebook reader, and I have a _lot_ of ebooks in Mobipocket format. This makes me an officially disgruntled customer, now swapping completely to eReader.

  8. I recently published my neurology book “Neurology for the Non-neurologist on Kindle. The next item will be to create a mobi-pocket e-book. I think apple will create a large Ipod touch device that will be a like the kindle device. will be interesting to see.

  9. Hi Chris Meadows,
    Isn’t it time for an update on this article since the news last week on Kindle Iphone App?

  10. Erik: I see you missed the post I made last week on that very subject. :)

  11. Je viens de remplacer mon vieux Palm TX qui est en fin de vie par un iPodTouch. Dans le passé, j’ai lu beaucoup de livres sur mon Palm avec le Reader de MobiPocket. Or vous ne semblez pas offrir aucun eBook pour lecture avec, par exemple, le Reader Stanza sur iPodTouch. Comment puis-je lire des eBooks de Numilog (ou de MobiPocket)avec mon nouvel appareil??? Merci!

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