My, how quickly fears can change. It wasn’t so very long ago that Amazon was a big meanie who forced everyone to use DRM whether they wanted to or not. (What’s more, it used a different DRM format from everyone that had gone before, including the Mobipocket format that was the basis for Kindle in the first place, as part of its consumer lock-in strategy.) It wasn’t long before Amazon relented and gave authors greater control over whether DRM was used or not.

Now Amsterdam-based publishing exec Jürgen Snoeren, whose post about publishers’ core competencies I mentioned yesterday, is concerned that Amazon’s move to allow EPUB files on the Kindle represents a Trojan horse by which Amazon will force publishers to drop Adobe DRM from their non-Amazon-published e-books if they want people who own Kindles to be able to read them.

There is no Dutch Amazon store yet, as there is no Dutch iBookstore either. With the growing penetration of both the Kindle and the iPad as ereading devices in Holland, this may mean we are forced into shedding our DRM to allow our content to be read on these platforms.

I personally don’t think ditching DRM is such a bad thing (Baen’s certainly done all right with DRM-free books these last twelve years), but it’s not as if Amazon allowing EPUB on will really change the current state of the consumer lock-in situation. DRM-free EPUBs have always been readable on the Kindle, provided you put them through Calibre or some other e-book converter first to change them to DRM-free Mobipocket. And it’s still too early to say whether Amazon is going to implement compatibility with Adobe DRM or not.

Personally, I suspect that Amazon will continue using its own DRM scheme on Kindle books, just changing the source file to EPUB instead of Mobi. I still don’t see any reason (from their perspective) why they should want to abrogate the vendor lock-in that’s served them so well so far.

And in that sense, nothing really changes: you can read the books you buy from them with no problem, but ones you buy elsewhere have to have no DRM on them. That’s true for Amazon now, and will probably stay that way into the future.


  1. it’s not about DRM. It’s about upgrading from a substandard format which didn’t allow floats, borders or CSS tricks which most developers take for granted. I describe a Kindle reader as a “Brand new laptop whose only browser is Netscape 4”.

  2. If Amazon do decide to produce a Kindle or Kindle software that renders ePubs, I suspect they’ll make Kindle ebooks contain both formats. In essence it will be a Mobipocket format ebook, but the ePub will be present in the penultimate record of the Mobipocket file.

    If read on current Kindles, the Mobipocket format will be displayed. On newer Kindles, the ePub version from the back will be extracted and rendered.

    Look at Kindlegen. Drop an ePub onto it, and this is precisely what you get — the Kindle format ebook with the ePub included in the penultimate record.

    Publishers would then only need to produce ePubs. Amazon will take the ePubs and convert them into their hybrid Mobipocket/ePub format, with Amazon DRM. Kindle hardware and software of any generation will be able to render the ebooks, with newer Kindle hardware/software using the ePub source for better results.

    Amazon gets a DRMed ePub format for free. Amazon gets ePub quality and easy of production for publishers, without the confusion of two file formats, or causing new Kindle ebooks to be unreadable on older hardware and software. The new Kindle hardware/software will, of course, still be able to render older Kindle ebooks that don’t have the ePub stuffed in the penultimate record.

    It will still be the case that other hardware/software can’t read DRMed Kindle ebooks.

    The more I consider it, the more likely it seems to me that this is Amazon’s future plans. It lets Amazon take advantage of the rendering improvements possible with ePub, without having to do anything very hard in terms of format development.

  3. Publishers have been trying to get Amazon to accept ePub source files for awhile now, and Amazon hasn’t been able to get them to do mobi source instead. So this is just Amazon capitulating to reality and agreeing to take ePub source, which they’ll convert themselves to mobi. It has nothing to do with Kindle platform suddenly adopting ePub. Hopefully Amazon will take their role seriously and do quality conversions.

  4. Paul – why go to all that trouble, especially considering the formatting issues involved, when all Amazon has to do is provide a firmware upgrade for existing kindles in order to let them read and parse EPUB?

  5. Frode : Why not just a firmware update? Well, perhaps some of the earlier Kindles don’t have the memory/processing power needed to do a good rendering job on ePub’s XHTML/CSS2 coding. Mobipocket coding is computationally a lot simpler to render than ePub.

    Even if the devices were all powerful enough, consider the development costs of producing firmware updates for previous Kindle devices, and then the support costs handling calls from people who can’t read newly downloaded ebooks until they’re talked through a firmware upgrade.

    But also, what trouble would my suggestion cause Amazon? They already have all of it in place. Kindlegen already adds the source files (which can be an ePub) to the end of the Mobipocket ebook it generates.

    The only downside to the plan is that Amazon ebooks would be twice the size that they currently are. So instead of 1MB they’ll be 2MB. or instead of 0.5MB they’ll be 1MB. Not realy much of a problem.

    For the rare ebook that is essentially just fil page images, just have the Mobipocket format, as the ePub format won’t add anything.

    I still think that this is one idea that Amazon is actively pursuing. It’s the only explanation I can thinkn of for KindleGen’s behaviour since the release of KindleGen 1.1.

  6. Not all Epub files convert cleanly to Mobi – there’s a reason why publishers want to stick to one format. Amazon already has a working firmware upgrade procedure and I don’t think that’ll cause much of a problem.

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