Should Amazon Have Adopted the ePub?

March 22, 2013 in Articles, eBook Management, Formatting eBooks, Kindle Devices

New Kindle PreviewerWhat a  kerfuffle, Amazon have moved over to their new KF8 format for all the newer Kindle Fire  devices and the new Paperwhite Kindle devices currently being sold. Basically this means that any new Kindle released in the future will support the KF8 format, which in truth is a little like, but not exactly the same as, ePub3. It also means that the Kindle devices that currently operate with the older mobi based formatting will gradually be phased out.

So Amazon have stuck to their policy of having their own proprietary format for their eReaders. The main bone of contention, highlighted by many online publishers, with this strategy is of course that anyone that has bought one of the millions of older Kindle devices is now stuck with the AZW or similar with far less features than KF8 and the two are not compatible i.e. KF8 formatting cannot be used on the older Kindles without problems. Not that a move to ePub would have helped that situation, because ePubs cannot be read with the older Kindles either (or the new Kindles now).

So the big question is whether having incompatible file formats between Kindles is the real issue or the fact that Amazon have decided not to standardize in line with other eReader producers. The fact is that a big opportunity has been missed to align all file types across all eReaders. Virtually every other supplier of eReader devices uses ePub as their primary platform. Many people would have liked Amazon to adopt the ePub standard for their devices, simplifying the whole process for reading ebooks on all sorts of different devices, but sadly that is not going to be the case. So unless you own a newer Kindle that uses KF8 or an older Kindle that uses the AZW format, the only way you will be able to read eBooks bought from Amazon will be by using one of their free aps or using a conversion program to change the file format to the one you want. What does that mean in practical terms:

  1. To read a Kindle formatted book you either need a Kindle,  a free app from Amazon or a conversion to ePub or some other preferred format
  2. To read an ePub formatted book on a Kindle you need to convert the file to one of Amazon’s supported formats, AZW, MOBI,PRC or KF8. This is very difficult to do if the file is protected by DRM (digital rights management) and of course you cannot use the KF8 format on older Kindles
  3. To read a KF8 formatted book on an older Kindle the file has to be stripped out to remove unsupported code (Amazon do this for publishers but they then have to be reviewed after using the Amazon’s previewer to check for quality problems)

In summary then, managing eBooks hasn’t got any easier and some would argue that with two different standards for Kindle it has become even more complex. Also if you are an author/publisher you have a lot more to think about. It is this third point that anyone publishing a book on KDP should really take issue with. Because you do not have the ability to format the book for both the older version Kindles and the new KF8 version Kindles independently. You have to rely on Amazon putting the file through their book formatting grinder (unless you are a skilled html coder) and then you have to check that it came out OK at the end of the process.

But what do you do if it doesn’t, where do you go to get it sorted out? There are a lot of very good programmers out there that have taken the time to learn how they can format html files (*html is the basis of all eBooks) in order to have the format work with both the old and new Kindle, but skills like that are not easy to learn.

Formatting a book in html also takes longer and if it is being done by a professional, they are likely to be charging quite handsomely for the privilege. Well why wouldn’t they, it’s not something every Joe Bloggs can do?

*html = hyper text markup language, the primary markup language used for creating web pages.

I just can’t help thinking that if Amazon had provided the facility for uploading 2 files to KDP, one for the older style Kindles and another for the new, then independent publishers would have had a bit more control over their own destiny, rather than potentially having to employ the services of a professional. That was after all a key selling point of KDP in the first place, an easier way for independent authors/publishers to get their books in front of the public and to potentially earn Amazon and themselves a bit of money in the process.

That said, is it such a problem if publishers continue to produce their books in a format that suits the mobi base file that the older Kindles use. There are still a lot of the older Kindles in use and when it comes to text or font styles, how many different ones do you need to read a novel. The vast majority of books written don’t use any images, don’t require tables, lots of different fonts or special effects for graphics. So what’s the problem. The mobi format is perfectly adequate for these types of books, even when a reasonable amount of images are required, and as mentioned there are still a lot of people using the mobi based, older Kindles.

Granted there will be a proportion of books that do require special features, technical books, comics, some reference/non-fiction books, books aimed at children where fancy graphics are possibly required. I wouldn’t argue that in those cases the extra functionality that KF8 provides isn’t useful, so yes of course go down the KF8 route in these instances and for ease let Amazon strip them out so they work on the older Kindles. But make sure you review the result for the whole book and then if there is a problem you will possibly need to seek help to sort it out. Who knows, it is also possible the conversion will be perfectly adequate, but there is really only one way to find out.

If you want to know more about the KF8 format and what it can do, there are over a 150 new formatting options available, you can visit Amazon’s Help Page on the topic.

It has to be said, Amazon may be the biggest distributor of eBooks on the Internet but they certainly haven’t gone out of their way to make life easier for eBook readers or publishers. Clearly that is a marketing strategy aimed at ensuring potential customers think twice before they go off and buy a competitor’s product. Because if they do, life ain’t going to be that easy when it comes to buying and managing their eBooks.

Fixed Formatting – What it is and Who Might Use It

 

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