image Is Jeffrey Preston Bezos coming to his senses on the need for the ePub standard for his endlessly publicized Kindle? Um, he still has a way to go.

At BookExpo America, says Marion Gropen, TeleBlog contributor, Bezos "said that he thought they’d have to sell e-books in Kindle’s modified HTML format to be read on other types of devices. He came pretty close to saying that they wanted this to occur."

image So what does this mean, gang? As we know, the main Kindle format from Amazon’s store is really just DRMed Mobipocket tweaked to be useless on other machines. Will Amazon end this silly differentiation from Mobi, its other house brand, so you can enjoy the same books on your Blackberry and PDA? The real solution is nonDRMed ePub, of course, but maybe Jeff needs some baby steps first. One world united under Mobipocket? Fergit. Will Jeff kindly cut out the megalomania, given the existence of a few companies with not-so-compatible ambitions, including Adobe, whose PDF format Jeff unceremoniously banished from Amazon?

Lessons for Jeff from another rival—eMusic’s CEO

Alas, so far I can’t find a podcast or transcript of the Bezos speech online, though I did run across the BEA presentation Jeff should have given, RIP DRM: How publishers should adapt to new digital channels, an audio featuring David Pakman (photo), eMusic’s CEO, a leader in the fight against this sales toxin.

image Can anyone oblige me, so we can parse Jeff’s exact words on the Kindle and the format issues and perhaps DRM, then compare his mindset and eMusic’s approach? Ideally Jeff can eventually understand Pakman’s weird notion that you ought to be able to enjoy the same content on a number of devices without relying on a proprietary format. Better for everyone—both shoppers and business people.  Listen to Pakman tell how lack of DRM has helped eMusic beat AOL and Yahoo, and how the absence of it is a powerful weapon in the audio book business.

Even better, hear Pakman tell how Random House’s DRMless audio books were not pirated from eMusic-distributed files when he and Random did a test with digital watermarking to see if the files were P2P fodder. If Pakman can educate the audio side of publishers about DRM’s harms, why the devil can’t Jeff start his own DRMfree e-book store? Watch out, Jeff. Someone, Pakman or another savvy marketer, will get into the DRMless e-book business in a big way and very possibly clean your clock if you don’t do it first. The longer you push DRM, the more risks you’re creating for your shareholders with your unsustainable business model. You’re doing great now. But e-books eventually will be the main show, and consumers will grow more sophisticated in time and want to own them for real.

Bringing  the K machine into the ePub fold—so it can read ePub natively

image Speaking of Jeff and format-related matters, what about the issue of Amazon making the Kindle or at least Kindle II able to read the ePub standard natively, without any need for translation, internal or external?

Because so many publishers and consumers don’t want to mess with the hassles of eBabel, standardization on ePub is clearly the way to go—ideally without DRM. Even with 125,000 titles at the Kindle store and 5,000 more on the way from Simon & Schuster, that’s just a speck of the total in print. eBabel is among the reasons. I’m waiting for the so-far-mostly-clueless "mainstream" press to connect the dots here. eBabel means fewer titles. Even with ePub-to-Kindle conversion tools, the resultant confusion among consumer will hobble efforts to popularize e-books, making E less attractive for publishers.

The other possible route for the Kindle: translation from ePub

image Now let’s think about another less-than-ideal scenario but still an improvement over the present Kindle mess. How could the Kindle and ePub could get along without the machine being able to read the K format natively, especially if publishers insist on using DRM?

Right now Mobipocket’s Desktop program can take an ePub file and turn it into a Mobi file readable even on the Kindle, via a memory card (although the translation is flawed). But DRM, as it tends to do with most everything, gums up the works. Can Amazon come up with desktop software, ala Mobi’s, or maybe even tweak Mobi Desktop, so DRMed ePub comes in but a Kindle file comes ou
t—for use only on a particular machine?

But wait. ePub has no DRM standard—Adobe’s DRMed ePub is in effect another house brand, except it isn’t Jeff’s. Uh-oh. Back to the drawing board, unless Jeff backs off from DRMed e-books, just as he’s set up an MP3 store to sell non-encrypted music. Come on, Jeff. DRM for you is less of a book-protector than a way to try to herd people into the Kindle and Mobi formats. Sooner or later publishers will catch on.

More coming from Marion

Stay tuned for more from Marion directly, and don’t blame the above analysis on her—this is just David speaking.

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  1. David,
    Glad to see you and TeleRead back in operation–and preaching the anti-DRM word. I think Amazon did make a mistake when they chose not to use native Mobipocket format on the Kindle–which might be what Bezos was saying here. The ability to read your book on the device in front of you is powerful and the Kindle can be seen as a primary reading device, supplemented by, let’s say, your Blackberry when you’re on the run. (Just as I use my eBookWise as primary and my Palm when I’m on the run).

    I don’t think you’re going to get Amazon to take the lead on anti-DRM. What they might do, though, is, as you say, take baby steps. A Fictionwise approach, where they offer DRM for those publishers who insist, and no DRM (multiformat over at Fictionwise) for others, might be a way to move forward. Something to think about, anyway.

    I continue to be excited about the Kindle because I know a number of people who never considered eReading before who got themselves Kindles and are now converted.

    Rob Preece

  2. Glad to be back. Thanks, Rob. Actually, as I see it, Bezos is no dummy and might actually be smart enough to preempt the competition with an e-book equivalent of his DRMless MP3 store. Such a store could offer just books from interested publishers, although the pressure would be on the laggards to catch up.